Medical Incarceration Monday: “The State of Maryland vs. a young woman with schizophrenia”
Caucasian girl with pink flower in her hair, in front of green foliage.

“How her turbulent experience with Baltimore Police, mental health court ended in tragedy”

CN: Death by suicide, mental illness stigma

This Baltimore Sun article details the tragic story of Angelina Bolan, a 22-year-old woman with schizophrenia, and her turbulent experience with the Baltimore Police and the mental health court (MHC) system. Through it, we get an illustration of how MHCs are not solving the problems they claim to, and how their shortcomings can be fatal.

The incident began when officers found her abandoned car with hazard lights flashing. Despite her history of serious mental health conditions, the police arrested her instead of recognizing her crisis. Bolan faced indifference from a police supervisor, concerns from a parole agent about her psychiatric condition, and a judge threatening to send her back to jail. Eventually, she participated in a mental health court program but died by suicide about eight months later.

Bolan’s story raises questions about whether police should have been involved and if alternative approaches could have been taken to prevent the tragic outcome. It also illustrates the failure of many of the interventions that systems put in place to keep deaths like this from happening, such as a the police department’s specially trained Crisis Response Team.

The article goes on to report on Bolan’s initial experiences at the intersection of the mental health system and the criminal justice system, including the court’s dismissal of her lawyer’s insistence that further incarceration would exacerbate Bolan’s psychiatric disability. There was disagreement over whether or not she was competent to go to trial, but eventually, before she could be released, she would agree to plead guilty to the charges against her, receive a sentence that involved a unique kind of probation, and sign a treatment contract.

Before long, “her probation agent filed a petition for a violation of probation. In her report, the agent accused Bolan of missing multiple therapy appointments, though she’d missed only one. The probation agent also said Bolan hadn’t been taking her medication, and lamented her “failure to be forthright” about that, according to the report.

“In court, Alexander attributed Bolan’s lack of medication to an insurance coverage problem.

“I explained to Ms. Bolan this morning that this is exactly what mental health court is supposed to be about. It’s not supposed to be about punitive,” Alexander said. “It’s not supposed to be about ‘gotcha.’ It’s not supposed to be about loading so much on someone who has active schizophrenia, and then saying, ‘We’re violating your probation, you’re going to jail.’”

“She is afraid,” the defense lawyer continued, “if she’s honest, with the folks that are trying to help her, that they will take action against her, instead of actually trying to help her. I’m not saying that’s reality. That’s part of the challenge of mental health, is their reality is not necessarily the reality.”

Six days after court, her car was found abandoned, and her death by suicide was discovered. For more details and the full story about how MHC failed Angelina Bolan, the full article can be found here.