Prisons and Jails
Documents and pleadings which may be helpful to attorneys litigating or considering the litigation of disability law related cases are available by following the links below.
April 12, 2012: U.S. District Court Approves Settlement Reached in 5-Year Litigation Over Solitary Confinement of Mentally Ill Prisoners: Agreement Results in Statewide Systemic Reforms, ‘Minimizing the Confinement of Inmates with Serious Mental Illness’
BOSTON – Ending a five-year litigation battle over the state’s practice of isolating prisoners with serious mental illness for up to 23 hours a day, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf today approved a settlement that results in systemic reforms, including a mental health classification system and two maximum security mental health treatment units as alternatives to segregation.
“The Agreement, among other things, provides a reasonable process for minimizing the confinement of inmates with serious mental illness in segregation and for reviewing the mental health of inmates in segregation,” wrote Wolf in his 33-page opinion issued today. “In addition, the Agreement involves an approach to protecting mentally ill prisoners that is similar to that employed in recent settlements an court orders in jurisdictions.”
Prisoners in segregation, who are placed there for breaking prison rules, spend 23 hours a day in small, concrete cells with only a narrow slot in the door through which meals are delivered. In March 2007, the Disability Law Center (DLC) sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) ands several of its senior administrators alleging that housing seriously mentally ill inmates in segregation violated their constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment and violated the American with Disabilities Act. The DLC filed suit after 11 prisoners committed suicide in segregation cells within 28 months. At least seven of these prisoners had serious mental illness.
“This is a victory on several fronts,” said Alison Hickey Silveira, a partner with Bingham McCutchen LLP, representing the DLC pro bono with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. “The settlement charts a course for Massachusetts to follow in treating mentally ill prisoners humanely and establishes a foundation for state officials to improve conditions going forward.”
Prison advocates hailed the settlement, noting that the resolution will likely result in fewer suicides among mentally ill prisoners and a safer environment for prison staff and other inmates by providing treatment to inmates with mental illness that substantially reduces disruptive and assaultive behavior.
Litigation Spurs Reform
As a result of the litigation, DOC already has implemented significant systemic reforms, including a mental health classification system, a policy to exclude inmates with severe mental illness from long-term segregation, and the design and operation of two maximum security mental health treatment units as alternatives to segregation. These units have dramatically reduced the number of acts of self harm and suicide attempts. They have also made the prisons safer for staff and other inmates by substantially reducing disruptive and assaultive behavior.
Under the terms of the agreement, DOC must maintain the number of beds in the alternative secure treatment units and “strictly regulate” the amount of time that prisoners with severe mental illness are held in other segregation units. In addition, DOC also must provide expanded mental health services and out-of-cell time for prisoners with mental illness who are awaiting placement in treatment units or removal from segregation.
DLC maintained that the misuse of segregation for prisoners who had difficulty adapting to prison because of their mental illness was a major factor behind Massachusetts prisons’ alarmingly high suicide rate. The suicide rate in DOC facilities was more than doubled the national average between 2007 and early 2011. Indeed, 18 more inmates have committed suicide between 2007 and 2010 – eight of them in 2010 alone. Prisoners in segregation spend 23 hours a day in small, concrete cells with only a narrow slot in the door through which meals are delivered. Psychiatrists and courts have found that segregation’s harsh conditions, sensory deprivation and lack of human contact exacerbate serious mental illness and can lead to suicide and other serious self harm.
Given these statistics, DLC Executive Director Alan Kerzin promised that his staff and consulting expert would closely monitor the implementation of the agreement. He praised the state for its cooperation and its willingness to settle, and added, “We don’t expect any problems, but we’ll be there just in case,” he said.
According to Leslie Walker of Prisoners’ Legal Services, who represented the plaintiffs, the establishment of the alternative treatment units has greatly increased the likelihood that prisoners with serious mental illness will get appropriate treatment for their illness. “The programs are cost effective and they promote public safety by ensuring that when they are released, the prisoners will have a far better chance to successfully reintegrate into society.”
Another plaintiff attorney, Robert Fleischner of the Center for Public Representation, added, “Massachusetts is now moving into the mainstream of segregation reform in the nation. This settlement,” he said, “incorporates the best ideas of clinicians and correctional officials and will greatly benefit prisoners with serious mental illness.”
Medication Rights in Prisons 1/1/2000 - An analysis of a prisoner's legal rights regarding psychiatric medications
Prison mental health case list 2005 5/6/2005 - An extensive, though selective, annotated list of court decisions in case challenging mental health services in prisons and jails. Updated last in May 2005
Restraint and isolation in prisons and juvenile facilities 4/10/2006 - A review of the legal rules regarding the use of restraint, segregation, and isolation on people with mental illness in jails, prisons and juvenile detention facilities, with a summary of cases
Summary of professional standards for MH services in prisons 9/1/1997 - A lengthy and comprehensive review of accreditations standards for MH services in prisons
TASC/NAPAS FACT SHEET - CHALLENGES TO INADEQUATE TREATMENT, MANDATORY TESTING, AND SEGREGATION OF INMATES WITH HIV/AIDS 6/1/2004 - A survey of litigation involving the rigts of adult and juvenile prisoners and detainees with HIV/AIDS
The ADA and parole decisions 6/1/1999 - A discussion of the extent to which the ADA may be helpful to prisoners in parole decisions
The Legal Rights of Prisoners with Mental Disorders 2/1/1999 - An overview of the rights of prisoners with mental disabilities
MPAS v. Caruso -- Complaint
CPR and the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services have sued the Michigan Department of Correction alleging that young prisoners (ages 14 to 26) have been denied necessary mental health and special education services and have been illegally segregated in violation of their 8th amendment rights. The case originally targeted the Michigan Youth Correction Facility, a private high security prison for youth convicted as adults. The facility was closed by the Governor shortly after the complaint was filed and the prisoners were moved to other prisons. An amended complaint was filed and is attached here.
The documents contained on this page and within this web site do not constitute legal advice. Anyone engaged in legal action should consult with an attorney. Attorneys should make their own independent judgments. Local laws vary and the law may have changed since these documents were written. Litigants should fully research any claims or defenses before making them.