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Resource ID: #26183
Wendy Halloran's journalistic skills have been focused in uncovering the secrets that often lurk behind the closed doors of our state institutions. Wendy began reporting about conditions in the Arizona Department of Corrections and became the vehicle through which the public would learn the story of Tony Lester. Tony, 26 years of age and suffering with schizophrenia tragically took his own life as he lingered in his prison cell, without proper medications and treatment, to ease the suffering he endured due to his debilitating illness. Wendy's ground breaking work in penetrating the great wall of silence within our state prison system was truly amazing. Wendy was able to obtain videos of Tony's last few moments of life through her fearless, "don't stop until the job is done attitude" The picture we see revealed in his final hours will create the guide for reform of Arizona's prison policy and procedures in treatment of those with mental disabilities for years to come. Tony Lester was a young man with a mental disability whose life unfortunately crossed with Arizona's criminal justice system. Tony's illness became a death sentence for him as all of our mental health system safety nets failed him. From the moment of Tony's first major psychotic break, when law enforcement was summoned rather than a Crisis Response Team, Tony's chances of survival grew dim. Arizona's courts do not place much importance on the state of mind a defendant has at the time a crime occurs but rather spend millions to be sure a defendant is competent at the time of trial. At trial we then prosecute to the fullest extent allowed by law, as we did in Tony's case and hand him a 12 year prison sentence, for his illness which was at the root of his desire to end his suffering. Some call it the definition of insanity, we do the same thing over and over again and each time expect a different result. Her work in bringing the story of Tony Lester's illness and treatment within the Arizona criminal justice system into the public view, has opened the eyes of the public as to what we can expect, when we allow a mental health system to fail and our prisons to become the largest psychiatric facilities in our state. Since Wendy Halloran's news story on Tony Lester has circulated, Arizona has seemed to have heard the sounding of the alarm, that our mentally disabled must have proper care. Meaningless punishment for a disease of the brain such as schizophrenia does nothing to heal the mind of the afflicted or keep our communities safe. The Tony Lester story has captured the attention of the Maricopa County Attorney and the Arizona Department of Corrections. Both of these important criminal justice players are currently involved in dialogue with The Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition. This has encouraged and promoted an open public discourse on mental health/criminal justice collaboration and reform.