Friday, March 30, 2007

Too late for Seidel, NJ could still save others

Joel Seidel, a frail 65-year-old retired stockbroker with schizophrenia, was stomped to death in 2004 in a Camden County, New Jersey, jail.

His cellmate, accused of the murder, was so violent he had been sent to jail from a psychiatric hospital after he raped another patient. Jail procedures in New Jersey have since been reformed to prevent vulnerable inmates from being housed with violent ones. Seidel’s family hopes those procedures will be made permanent in a settlement of a lawsuit against the county.

But what has been done to prevent people like Seidel ending up in jail in the first place?

Seidel “repeatedly refused to take medication for schizophrenia and had failed to complete outpatient treatment programs.” His family did not bail him out of jail because they believed that he “could only get help if he was involuntarily committed to a county psychiatric hospital” from the jail.

If his family had had some other way to ensure he would participate in treatment in the community rather than getting treatment via jail, he might be alive today. But the family’s hands were tied because New Jersey is one of only 8 states whose archaic law prevents court-ordered community treatment. Community treatment programs were available for Mr. Seidel – he was just too sick to realize he needed treatment. A court order might have saved his life.

A bill (S1093) that will help prevent other New Jersey families from facing the Seidel family’s dilemma and tragic loss passed the New Jersey Senate unanimously nearly a year ago. But it is still not law because the Assembly Human Services Committee has not even scheduled a hearing for the bill (A2304).

New Jersey must act now to make community services available to people like Joel Seidel who are too sick to participate voluntarily.

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