Jails can ease the burden of mental illness, and protect society

Most people masturbate, and always have. Prehistoric cave drawings from around the globe confirm this.

The problem comes in our modern society when it’s done in public. It hurts people.

We wrote last week about Frederick Basile, a recent Guilderland graduate, who has been arrested four times in the last year for public lewdness. We don’t know if the allegations in the arrest reports are true; Basile is innocent until proven guilty.

He is charged with exposing his private parts and masturbating in front of two girls, ages 10 and 11; such early and abusive exposure to sexuality could psychologically scar those girls. Another report says a woman walking her dog saw him masturbating with his pants down, and another says he opened his pants in a supermarket to show his penis to a woman. He is also accused of exposing his penis and shaking it at a 16-year-old girl then grabbing her buttocks as she tried to get away.

These are harmful acts and should not be allowed. All of the complainants were strangers to Basile. Each may now feel shattered or unsafe.

So we have no quarrel with Basile’s arrest.

Our problem comes with what happened later. Basile was sent to jail, without bail. This could be seen as a laudable move to protect society.

But shouldn’t the prisoner be protected, too?

Basile claims that a prison guard has spread the charges against him in the jail, that he has had urine thrown at him and that threats have been made against him by other prisoners.

Basile’s stepfather said that he and Basile’s lawyer dropped everything one morning last week when a friend called to tell them other inmates were going to kill Basile.

Basile has not yet been convicted of a crime and, if he were, the punishment is supposed to be the lack of freedom, not torture from other prisoners. After all, the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

We must ask ourselves: What would best serve society?

Certainly keeping Basile, if he is guilty, from repeating what the law calls “acts of public lewdness” is a wise move. But, if the Albany County Correctional Facility is to live up to its name, shouldn’t the jail try to correct such behavior before a prisoner is released?

Basile wants to be moved to the jail’s mental-health unit and we believe he should be.

His lawyer, Theodore Hartmann, said that, when offenses like those Basile is accused of are committed, they must be driven by an underlying mental-health issue. “Why would someone risk this social shaming, economic penalty, penal penalty, and emotional pain, unless they were driven by a compulsion to do this?” he asked.

Most of us can’t fathom an answer to that question. Why indeed?

Our Guilderland reporter Elizabeth Floyd Mair, found an answer from clinical psychologist James M. Cantor, Ph.D., an expert in sexual offenses. While researchers don’t know with certainty what motivates exhibitionists, he said Karl Freund had developed the current framework most often used to understand them: Exhibitionism is one type of “courtship disorder.”

Human males, according to Freund’s theory, have a natural courtship cycle — visually identifying potential reproductive partners, signaling interest, physical preparatory contact and fondling, and then sexual intercourse. Problems in the identification phase, Freund said, give rise to voyeurism; problems in the signaling phase lead to exhibitionism; and problems in the preparatory contact phase lead to rubbing one’s hands (toucherism) or pelvis (frottuerism) against an unconsenting partner for sexual gratification.

Even if Basile were to be convicted and serve a sentence, if he doesn’t deal with the root problem, the crime is likely to be repeated.

We know the county jail has nearly 7,000 inmates over the course of a year with an average stay of 30 days, making it hard to find real solutions. But putting Basile in the mental-health unit would be a start. His stepfather said Basile suffers from depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder but has not been given his medications for those conditions in jail. He should be given his medications.

Looking beyond Basile to the larger prison population — how many people are in jail for exhibitionism? Is there a way they could get the therapy they need to stop the compulsion?

Over 30 years ago, in March 1985, a “Sourcebook on the Mentally Disordered Prisoner” was published, surveying not just federal prisons but prisons in all 50 states to guide correctional administrators.

“When in the 1960s both the mental health and correctional fields received a lot of bad publicity for ‘warehousing’ their clientele and providing inadequate services, a national consensus coalesced urging the provision of more humane and effective care,” wrote Karl H. Gohlke in the sourcebook’s lengthy executive summary.

He also wrote how the “mentally disordered inmate” disrupts jail discipline. “ ‘Odd’ people upset the equilibrium. The prison environment, fostering a survival-of-the-fittest ethos where predators prey on the weak, exacerbates an inmate’s predisposition to mental disorder to the point where the inmate acts out. This often produces a violent reaction among the other inmates or even with the staff, which sets in motion an ever-escalating vicious cycle.”

The sourcebook notes that the courts have been clear that an inmate has a legal right to treatment but have not established what treatments are appropriate. The survey shows that prisons with special units for inmates prone to victimization work well.

The sourcebook also asserts of inmates with mental problems, “Legally and ethically, correctional administration must now provide these inmates with access to professional services on a level consistent with similar services in the community at large.”

On-site visits to a cross-section of facilities nationwide where there were programs for the mentally disordered showed “the morale of the inmates and staff appears high and quite supportive of the special programming.” There were fewer fights, and less stress for inmates and staff.

“We found the budgetary impact to be minimal,” wrote Gohlke. “Additional costs for clinical staff and services were offset by lower overall security costs.”

Gohlke, the managing editor and project manager for the federal sourcebook, began his career with the New York State prison system, a career that lasted over three decades, as a counselor. Among other titles, he became director of correctional guidance and he functioned as the chief operating officer for the state agency that oversaw the operations of all local and state correctional facilities during a period of significant change.

Gohlke says that inmates with charges like those against Basile “dictate individualized care management.” He went on, “Mental-health and correctional staff are expected to provide him with the professional care to ensure his safety. Mental-health residential and outpatient programs are preferable to the jail setting. Probation supervision with stringent conditions for compliance with the treatment plan would provide the level of community safety necessary in this instance.”

Basile’s fate will be determined by a judge. For now, he is in jail. We urge treatment for inmates with compulsions like his to begin when they arrive in jail.

We commend Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple for just such an initiative with heroine addicts. After a young heroin addict hanged himself in Albany County’s jail in 2014, the sheriff said that a prison is not a rehab center. A year later, Apple started a pilot program for jailed addicts called the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program or SHARP. He said it would help turn jail into a positive and even life-changing experience for inmates who are addicted to drugs but want to quit.

Why not design a program to help exhibitionists who want to quit? It would likely save taxpayer money in the long run, considering the high costs of court and incarceration. Over 30 years ago, the federal sourcebook showed mental-health programs improved jail life for inmates and staff alike without more costs. Why haven’t we progressed?

Gohlke told us he has worked with people who had disorders similar to Basile’s  — some of them charged with public-nuisance violations rather than sex crimes — and they can be successfully treated. “These disorders are in the same category as addictive disorders,” he said. “They know it’s wrong but can’t stop. They can be re-programmed….Some of the most effective programs are peer-run.”

Such a jail program would help the perpetrators, of course, but, more importantly, it would help society, protecting innocent people who are hurt by crimes of lewdness.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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