INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana has been "deliberately
indifferent" to the plight of mentally ill inmates in its state prisons,
who amount to nearly a quarter of the system's population, a federal judge
Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the Indiana Department of Correction
violated mentally ill prisoners' constitutional right against cruel and
unusual punishment by keeping them separate from other inmates and failing
to provide them with adequate treatment.
finds that 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 did not
mandate a remedy in her ruling Monday. Lawyers for both sides are supposed
to meet within 45 days to discuss how to correct the problem.
of Correction referred comment to the Indiana attorney general's office,
which represented the state. A spokesman for that office, Bryan Corbin,
said Wednesday that the agency will review the ruling with the Department
of Correction and determine the next steps.
Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented the state Protection and
Advocacy Services Commission in the class action lawsuit that was filed in
2008 on behalf of the more than 5,800 mentally ill inmates in Indiana
prisons. The commission advocates for the rights of the disabled.
attorney David Smith said in an email that the agency "strongly agrees
with the ruling."
forward to working with and assisting the Court in determining an
appropriate remedy to this problem which will stop the non-treatment and
mistreatment of inmates in IDOC with serious mental illness now and in the
future," Smith added.
A survey by
the corrections agency in 2010 found that 22 percent of the 26,700 inmates
in state prisons were diagnosed mentally ill. The system has two mental
health units, which together have room for about 250 patients. Many of the
rest are placed in segregation, kept separate from other inmates and
mostly confined to their cells despite a consensus that segregation is
detrimental to their condition, the order said.
care, like other medical care, is provided by a private contractor called
Corizon. Spokesmen for the company didn't respond to requests for comment
who visited the prison system's main psychiatric unit at New Castle said
some of the patients there were "frankly psychotic," yet received little
treatment and were inappropriately taken off medications.
however, mental health treatment is principally limited to issuance of
medication, prisoner conversations with the mental health staff, and
mental health staff's response to incidents of actual and attempted
self-harm," Pratt wrote in her 37-page opinion issued in federal court in
Indianapolis more than a year after a July 2011 bench trial.
function of mental health staff within the IDOC has become a mixture of
responding to crises and responding to prisoner requests to be seen," she
one instance in which a prisoner committed suicide about a week after he
missed two mental health appointments — at least one because no guards
were available to escort him.
the number of mentally ill people in prison has risen over the years as
states have cut budgets for treatment.
executive director of the Indiana chapter of the National Alliance on
Mental Illness, said the state corrections agency has improved its
treatment of mentally ill inmates in the last decade, but more resources
are needed to get people into treatment in the first place.