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Judge: DOC treatment of mentally ill unconstitutional

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A lack of basic treatment for mentally ill Indiana Department of Correction inmates held in isolation violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana discussed the ruling at a news conference on Wednesday. Legal Director Ken Falk said that while those with mental illness held in isolation accounted for only about six percent of the DOC population, inmates so confined represented about half the suicides at DOC in the past five years.

Falk said inmates held in isolated cells for 23 hours a day – sometimes longer – created “toxic” conditions in which the underlying symptoms of mental illness including depression and hallucinations were greatly increased.

“These people are going to be released,” Falk said. “The question you have to ask yourself as a Hoosier is, do you want someone released who is acutely psychotic.”

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana concluded that, in accord with Brown v. Plata, 131 S. Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011), “[a] prison that deprives prisoners of . . . adequate medical care . . . is incompatible with the concept of human dignity.”

“Mentally ill prisoners within the IDOC segregation units are not receiving minimally adequate mental health care in terms of scope, intensity, and duration and the IDOC has been deliberately indifferent,” Pratt wrote. “Based on the facts and law set forth in this Entry, therefore, it is the Court’s conclusion that the treatment of mentally ill prisoners housed in IDOC segregation units and the New Castle Psychiatric Unit, and the failure to provide adequate treatment for such prisoners, violates the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Plaintiffs have met their burden in that respect and are entitled to prevail.”

Pratt ordered a conference within 45 days “for the parties to discuss and establish the appropriate development of a remedy.”

There was no immediate indication whether DOC will appeal. “The Indiana Attorney General’s Office represents the Department of Correction and also works on behalf of crime victims and law enforcement to ensure the public is protected from dangerous offenders,” spokesman Bryan Corbin said in a statement. “As the state’s lawyer, we will review this opinion with our client DOC and decide at the appropriate time the next steps.”

More than 1,600 segregation beds are spread among 14 correctional facilities around the state, including the psychiatric unit at New Castle. According to the ACLU of Indiana, about 450 mentally ill prisoners are being held in isolation, but the ruling will affect hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates across the state.
 
The case is Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission on behalf of its clients and constituents v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, 1:08-CV-01317.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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