Settlement restricts placing some mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement

January 27, 2016

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services announced Wednesday the terms of a settlement with the Department of Correction over the treatment of seriously mentally ill prisoners in state correctional facilities.

The ACLU of Indiana and IPAS sued the Indiana DOC in 2008 on behalf of IPAS and three individuals who represented a class of inmates with serious mental illnesses. The plaintiffs alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. IPAS claimed that prisoners at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City had infrequent contact with mental health professionals; prisoners at the New Castle Correctional Facility were held in cells with solid doors that require them to yell discussions with mental health professionals; and that mentally ill prisoners at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility were often violently removed from their cells.

Federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled in 2012 that the DOC had violated Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates placed in isolation in restrictive status housing often faced worsening of symptoms and illness.

Pratt ordered the parties to try to work out a final resolution to the case, which was announced Wednesday. It includes, with some exceptions, not placing seriously mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, and outlines “minimum adequate treatment” for these prisoners. That treatment includes 10 hours a week of therapeutic programming, recreation and showers, and an individualized treatment plan consisting of mental health professionals and correctional staff familiar with the prisoner, reviewed at least every 90 days.

There are currently more than 5,000 inmates with a mental health diagnosis, according to IPAS.

“The Indiana Department of Correction has made extraordinary efforts to address the treatment of severely mentally ill prisoners in its care. The DOC has increased both correctional staffing and mental health staffing and is largely already in compliance with the settlement agreement,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “We fully anticipate this cooperation will continue and that these changes will have a significant positive impact by reducing the severity of mental illness in prisoners who will one day rejoin society.”

Following the court’s 2012 decision, the DOC opened up the new Pendleton Treatment Unit/INSIGHT Unit (Intent on Shaping Individual Growth with Holistic Treatment) for the care of some seriously mentally ill prisoners. The 250-bed unit will accommodate many prisoners formerly held in isolation. Seriously mentally ill prisoners also may be housed in special needs units at the Indiana Women’s Prison, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility and in the New Castle Psychiatric Facility.

The private settlement agreement in Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission, et al., v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, 1:08-CV-01317, was filed Wednesday and may be entered after approval by the class.


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