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Mentally Ill Prisoners Seek Intervention Addressing “State Of Emergency” In IDOC’s Psychiatric Care

Logos for Equip for Equality, Uptown People’s Law Center, Dentons, and Mayer Brown.

Contact:
Laura Miller, Equip for Equality, 312-895-7316, laura@equipforequality.org
Harold Hirshman, Dentons, 312-876-8025, harold.hirshman@dentons.com
Alan Mills, Uptown People’s Law Center, 773-769-1411, alan@uplcchicago.org

Lawyers request federal judge to order Ill. Dept. of Corrections to remedy numerous violations

CHICAGO, IL – Today, lawyers representing over 12,000 mentally ill prisoners filed a Motion to Enforce the federal settlement agreement in Rasho v. Baldwin. The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) entered into the settlement agreement in 2015. Lawyers filed this motion after IDOC failed to remedy numerous findings of non-compliance by federally-appointed monitor, Pablo Stewart.

The monitor’s first annual report, issued in May of this year, characterized the psychiatric care provided by IDOC as “grossly insufficient,” “extremely poor in quality” and “oftentimes dangerous.” Specifically, the monitor found that IDOC’s psychiatric appointment backlog is in the thousands; treatment plans do not comply with the settlement agreement; mental health referrals are backlogged; and those in crisis and segregation continue to suffer without the treatment they need. Solitary confinement, itself detrimental to mental health, remains the norm for those most at risk for mental health breakdowns. When IDOC failed to address the monitor’s findings, he sent them a letter earlier this month declaring that psychiatric care in Illinois prisons is in “a state of emergency.”

“Our clients are suffering and are at risk of serious harm on a daily basis,” said Amanda Antholt, senior attorney at Equip for Equality and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “IDOC has failed to adequately address the violations identified by the monitor, so we need the court to step in.”

Henry is an example of the suffering mentally ill prisoners are experiencing at the hands of IDOC. After he attempted suicide while in prison, he spent most of the next three months placed on “crisis watch” in a bare cell without his clothing or property—sometimes without a mattress. During that time, a psychiatrist saw him only once and his treatment plan was never updated. Unsurprisingly, Henry’s mental health deteriorated under these conditions. His only interactions with mental health professionals were brief daily check-ins at his cell door. The notes from those checks reflect that Henry was increasingly incoherent, confused, and hallucinating. Henry would spread feces over the cell and himself because he believed it would ward off demons. Eventually this led to a disciplinary ticket, resulting in further loss of privileges.

This isolation and complete lack of mental health treatment is far from the aggressive treatment required for those in mental health crisis. Unfortunately, Henry is far from the only prisoner treated to such harsh conditions. In fact, 4,842 prisoners have been classified by IDOC as “seriously mentally ill.”

“We gave the IDOC time to propose how they would comply given the monitor’s findings and IDOC had no plan,” said Harold Hirshman, senior counsel, Dentons, and lead pro bono counsel in the case.

The Motion to Enforce seeks a judicial order:

  • finding IDOC is out of compliance with the settlement agreement with respect to treatment plans, evaluations, medications, segregation and crisis treatment and transitions;
  • finding IDOC’s failure to provide adequate and necessary mental health treatment violates the US Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
  • requiring IDOC to submit a detailed plan on how it will bring itself into compliance with the settlement agreement.

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, stated, “Over the last year, I have visited hundreds of prisoners with mental illness in ten different prisons. While I have been representing Illinois prisoners for 35 years, I had never seen such depraved indifference to people’s well-being. People locked in tiny cages 24 hours a day, suffering from everything from terrifying psychosis, to depression so deep they had retreated deep within their own minds. People crying out for the medicine they desperately need—month after month, with no response. One very severely mentally ill prisoner recently ate glass and cut herself; as punishment for her act of self harm she was  left  in her cell with the untreated wounds.”

Mills continued, “Our filing today seeks to finally bring an end to this wholly unnecessary suffering. IDOC needs to provide treatment to this severely ill population, or someone else must do it for them. As a civilized society, we cannot tolerate this level of abuse in our prisons.”

Click here to read the full Motion to Enforce. Plaintiffs are represented by Equip for Equality, Uptown People’s Law Center and the law firms of Dentons and Mayer Brown on a pro bono basis.

Rasho v. Baldwin, No. 1:07-CV-1298-HAB-JAG, Central District of Illinois.

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About Equip for Equality:
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit legal advocacy organization and is the federally mandated Protection & Advocacy System designated to safeguard the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities.

About Uptown People’s Law Center:
Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners’ rights, Social Security disability, and tenants’ rights and eviction defense. UPLC currently has nine pending class action lawsuits regarding jail and prison conditions.

About Dentons:
Dentons is the world’s largest law firm, delivering quality and value to clients around the globe. Dentons is a leader on the Acritas Global Elite Brand Index, a BTI Client Service 30 Award winner and recognized by prominent business and legal publications for its innovations in client service, including founding Nextlaw Labs and the Nextlaw Global Referral Network. Dentons’ polycentric approach and world-class talent challenge the status quo to advance client interests in the communities in which we live and work.

About Mayer Brown:
Mayer Brown is one of the largest global law firms both by number of lawyers and revenue. The firm has lawyers in key business centers across the Americas, Asia and Europe. Mayer Brown serves many of the world’s largest companies and financial services organizations, including a significant proportion of the Fortune 100, FTSE 100, DAX and Hang Seng Index companies and most of the major investment banks. Mayer Brown provides legal services in areas such as Supreme Court and appellate; litigation; corporate and securities; finance; real estate; tax; intellectual property; government and global trade; restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency; and environmental.

Last updated: October 10, 2017

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