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Agency sues DOC over mentally ill prisoners

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A state agency created in response to a federal mandate is suing the Indiana Department of Correction for what it claims is poor treatment of mentally ill prisoners.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal suit in the Southern District of Indiana Wednesday on behalf of the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services, which stands up for the rights and interests of Hoosiers with developmental and other disabilities.

In Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission v. Indiana DOC Commissioner, No. 1:08-cv-1317, the 15-page suit alleges violations of the Constitution and Americans with Disabilities Act in that mentally ill prisoners aren't receiving adequate treatment and often are held in isolated conditions detrimental to their recovery.

The suit specifically points to conditions at the newly opened New Castle Correctional Facility where since the summer the DOC has secured 67 prisoners the agency identifies as being seriously mentally ill. Prisoners in the unit are confined in isolation for 23 hours a day, with one hour of individual recreation time allowed each day and a solitary shower three times a week, the suit claims.

In describing how prisoners receive recreation in a small, barred room and are fed in their cells without access to others, the suit notes that, "It is not a program that will adequately and effectively treat mental illness. Confinement in virtual isolation exacerbates the illnesses of those who are mentally ill and is extremely deleterious to the mental health of ... prisoners."

The suit requests a preliminary injunction that can eventually be made permanent and also asks for all plaintiff costs and attorney fees.

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