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Kentucky Police Indicted After Sending Mentally Ill Inmate on One-Way Trip to Florida

A local police chief and an officer in Carrollton County, Kentucky, were indicted by a grand jury this week after allegedly placing a 31-year-old mentally ill inmate on a bus to Florida instead of taking him to the hospital for a court-ordered psychological evaluation.

Attorney General for the state of Kentucky Jack Conway said in a press release today that officers Ronald Dickow and Michael Willhoite were indicted on charges of kidnapping and official misconduct.

According to the indictments, Dickow and Willhoite allegedly removed inmate Adam Horine from the Carrollton County Detention Center at dawn, and rather than take him to Eastern State Hospital, where a judge had ordered him, decided to give him $18 and a ride to Louisville, putting him on a bus to western Florida.

The officers have been taken off the job but not fired. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KYCIR) has been following the story closely and writes that “over the objections of their attorneys, Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe directed that the officers not perform law-enforcement functions or be involved with police-related paperwork while under indictment. The 10-member Carrollton police department is now down 20 percent of its workforce.”

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than this story is how common ‘banishment’ is and how rarely it is discussed. Sometimes known as “Greyhound Therapy,” the practice was recently discussed in an op-ed at Kentucky.com, where Kelly Gunning related stories involving her own mentally ill son. In one case, he was put on a plane with a one way ticket until he had a psychotic episode. The plane was forced to land in Chicago and he was arrested by federal air marshals and taken to Cook County Jail. On another occasion, Gunning says he was put on a bus to Texas and got off at the first stop, where he “almost died of heat exhaustion and dehydration, walking in 115-degree heat” until he was arrested for vagrancy and put on a different bus back home.

One of the most famous cases involved the transportation of some 1,500 inmates from a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital to the streets of Sacramento and other American cities. The individuals were told to call 9-1-1 after they got off the bus.

In 2009, Frontline filmed a documentary in Ohio, titled, “The Released.” That year, the state released some 700,000 inmates, more than half of whom suffered from mental illness. They were given bus money and two weeks worth of medication. Around 2011, Michigan changed its policies to prevent this happening with its own mentally ill prisoners, who has been similarly released and ordered to meet with their parole officer within one week. A social worker in the state named Betsy Hardwick told Bloomberg Businessweek, “If they showed up it was amazing. If they managed to show up with their meds it was an act of God.”

People suffering from mental illness do not deserve to be in prison, but since even the most basic services for them are virtually non-existent in nearly every state, it’s where they inevitably end up. This is why America’s largest mental hospital is the Cook County Jail. “Greyhound Therapy” or banishment is not just morally wrong, but a veritable death sentence for many.

File: A prison bus parked in a parking lot, photographed on Jan 16, 2013. (Flickr / Mike Demers)
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.