Joseph Shapiro

A new federal report harshly criticizes the way the Bureau of Prisons treats inmates with mental illness, singling out treatment at the prison at Lewisburg, Pa.

The report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General says BOP violates its own policies by keeping prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for too long and with too little treatment.

At the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa., prisoners with serious mental illness are handed crossword and sudoku puzzles instead of counseling, according to a lawsuit that says prisoners at one of the most violent federal prisons are denied routine mental health care.

The lawsuit also alleges that prisoners at Lewisburg are cut off from the medications they were given at other prisons and housed in small cells, where they often spend up to 24 hours a day with other prisoners, who also often have serious mental illnesses.

Disability rights activist Nick Dupree died last weekend. Tomorrow would have been his 35th birthday.

Back in 2003, he told NPR: "I want a life. I just want a life. Like anyone else. Just like your life. Or anyone else's life."

He got that life.

When NPR in 2014 ran a series about how people around the country end up in debtors' prisons when they don't have the money to pay court fines and fees — even on minor infractions like traffic tickets — one cause of the problem, the stories noted, was confusion among state judges.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, 37 civil rights, human rights and church groups on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "harrowing allegations of abuse and torture" of prisoners at the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., based on stories last month by NPR and The Marshall Project.

Groups signing the letter included the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Southern Poverty Law Center.

On Feb. 3, 2011, corrections officers at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson's cell door. With them was a man looking agitated, rocking back and forth and staring down at Richardson, who at 4 feet, 11 inches was nicknamed "Bam Bam."

It may seem like there are a lot more cases of people being shot and killed by police.

Just this week, two African-American men were shot by police: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. Before that there were Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Laquan McDonald in Chicago and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

But could it be that we are just paying more attention?

Davontae Sanford was only 14 years old when he was arrested for a string of murders in Michigan. But after almost nine years in prison, his conviction was overturned when a state investigation found that the real killer had later confessed to Wayne County police and prosecutors.

Now 23, Sanford was reunited with his family last week in Detroit. But that tearful homecoming almost didn't happen, because of more than $2,000 in unpaid court fines and fees he amassed while in prison — including a bill for a public defender.

Debtors' prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can't pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.

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