- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Marvae Dunn cannot speak. He cannot walk. He cannot follow directions beyond the simplest of commands and does not understand most of what others say to him. And in addition to the two major strokes that landed him in this condition, he is very ill.

He has HIV. He is diabetic. And his kidneys are shot, so he requires dialysis three times a week.

Dunn, 64, has been in this condition for most of the last seven years, nearly all of which he has spent at the Philadelphia prison infirmary.

Since his arrest in April 2007, when he was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly shooting his sister-in-law Tameka Dozier, Dunn has, in effect, been serving a life sentence.

Yet he has never stood trial, let alone been convicted.

A prisoner of his wrecked body and mind, red tape, indifference, poverty, and lax legal representation, Dunn has been condemned to a Waiting for Godot purgatory.

Although his situation is extreme, the small band of advocates who have finally come to his aid say Dunn’s experience exemplifies a troubling national trend that has turned prisons into society’s psychiatric institutions.

“This is the largest psychiatric facility in Pennsylvania,” said Bruce Herdman, director of medical operations for the prison system.

An estimated 45 percent of federal offenders, 56 percent of state offenders, and 64 percent of jail inmates have some sort of mental-health problem, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Dunn’s experience also touches on many of the problems facing the fastest-growing segment of America’s prison population - inmates who are aging, alone, sick, and forgotten.

“They’re getting older, their neighbors are getting older, their contacts are getting older,” said Ann Schwartzman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which never heard about Dunn’s case. “We’re going to see more people lost in the system because they’re losing those links.”

In all of his time behind bars, Dunn has had few visitors, and, until recently, no one to advocate for him. The license of the first of his two court-appointed lawyers was suspended in 2010 for neglecting to properly represent clients.

Dunn’s isolation was compounded by the fact that he is waiting for a trial that - short of a miracle recovery - will never be held.

“Who knows how many others are out there like Mr. Dunn who have disappeared into the system? There’s no systematic way to identify these people,” said Common Pleas Court Senior Judge Benjamin Lerner.

The bungling of Dunn’s case “doesn’t even rise to the level of incompetence,” Lerner said. “We are dealing with defendants who are poor and sick, people who have absolutely no voice, no power. There’s a million ways of saying no when you try to get somebody some special assistance. It’s like trying to line up all the stars.”

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