Following the death of an inmate with mental health problems accused of stealing $5 worth of snacks, an investigation has been opened by the Justice Department into whether a jail in Virginia is violating the civil rights of detainees.
The Hampton Roads jail in Portsmouth has the highest death rate of any jail in Virginia, and after Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, was found dead in his cell in August 2015, two other inmates who requested medical attention, a 60-year-old and a 69-year-old, also died while in custody. The Guardian first reported on Mitchell's death from heart problems and a wasting disorder, which occurred more than three months after he was arrested at a 7-Eleven for allegedly stealing a Mountain Dew, a Zebra Cake, and a Snickers. A judge ordered Mitchell, whose family said he had schizophrenia, be sent to a mental health hospital, but the notice was misplaced by a state official and forgotten about, The Guardian reports. His family is suing authorities for $60 million.
The Justice Department said it will investigate if inmates are being denied their constitutional rights to adequate medical and mental health care, and if those with mental health problems are having their rights violated by being denied access to programs readily available to other inmates or placed in isolation for long periods of time. "Prisoners with mental illness are a particularly vulnerable population, and their rights must be safeguarded," Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, told The Guardian.