Prison death shows system ill-equipped to handle mentally ill, East Oak Lane family says

Kenyada Jones was off his meds.

His mother couldn’t persuade him to come home, and mental health workers told her they wouldn’t chase a moving target. But Michelle Witherspoon knew her son was, at heart, a rules follower. So she called him and told him to go to his probation officer, where she planned to pick him up and take him for psychiatric care herself.

But Witherspoon’s plan to save her son backfired when the probation officer instead sent Jones to jail, where correctional officers found him five days later in his cell, dead of a suspected drug overdose.

As his grieving family awaits the autopsy results in Jones’ July 2 death, they can’t contain their anger at a system that treats mental illness as a crime.

And they remain tormented by questions no one will answer because, they suspect, officials regard them as potential plaintiffs. Most pressing: How did Jones get the blood-pressure medication that a forensic pathologist found at a toxic level in his system?

“My brother died because someone made a judgment call to put a person who was mentally ill — but who didn’t commit a crime — in jail,” said his brother Meneek Jones, 42, of Queens. “And he’s dead today! How can you think a jail would be better for mental illness than a hospital?”

He added: “There’s no transparency, no compassion, no common decency for people whose family died in prison. Everyone I have talked to has dismissed me like I was just going to walk away from it. That means the family, while we’re mourning, have to be investigators also.”

Shawn Hawes, a prisons spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss details of Jones’ death because it remains under investigation.

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