Larizza was not immediately available for comment when NewsOne called his office.
Circuit Judge Leah Case ordered that Wilkerson be held in jail custody for another week and ordered that defense attorneys prepare case law supporting grounds for her release to the hospital. NewsOne legal analyst Eric Guster said that the judge’s ruling was the appropriate one, given the circumstances.
“Because they don’t have a diagnosis yet, the judge has to make sure to balance the health of the child versus keeping her in custody,” Guster said. “The purpose of custody is to protect her and others from her. And balancing that with the health of the child, her health, and her safety — it’s a very difficult balancing act.”
Guster added that moving Wilkerson out of jail custody without a diagnosis and knowing exactly what her mental health issues are would be a safety risk for other inmates in general population.
“It’s extremely important that you protect other inmates from her as well because if she will harm her own child, she may harm another inmate,” he said. “With her beating her own stomach, she’d definitely hit someone else, so they have to be very careful with putting her with other inmates. And the statement in reference to her needing to talk to other people to help her mental state — if I were the judge, I would not necessarily take that into consideration with her actions because I would have to protect those other [inmates] as well.”
Dr. Sarah Vinson, who serves as the Medical Director at the Fulton County Jail Competency Restoration Program in Atlanta, told NewsOne that transferring an inmate from a jail to a hospital is not simply a matter of someone having a mental illness or needing medical care.
“Jails are full of people who have schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and most are not transferred in to a hospital,” Vinson said. “Just because somebody has schizophrenia that doesn’t mean they will be transferred to the hospital and often times they don’t.”
In her experience of dealing with inmates with mental health needs, Dr. Vinson said that even medication needs may not get a person moved to the hospital.
“In Fulton County, in Atlanta, if somebody needs a long-acting injectable medication or if somebody has to be medicated against there will, we have to transfer them to the hospital for that,” she said. “But if it’s somebody who will take medicine (pills) by mouth, which is what a lot of people do, as long as they take them, then they don’t necessarily need to go to the hospital.”
It is not uncommon for jails to serve as mental health facilities. The Treatment Advocacy Center, in Arlington, Va., reports that jails and prisons across the country house 10 times as many people with severe mental illness than do psychiatric hospitals. The three largest mental health providers in the nation today are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County, and Rikers Island in New York.
The continuation of Wilkerson’s bond hearing is scheduled to resume March 25th.