Indiana’s prison system has been put on trial and a verdict has now been reached.
“I think we should feel embarrassed,” said Ken Faulk with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. “More than 200 years of literature demonstrates that placing a seriously mentally ill person into that sort of environment exacerbates, makes worse their mental illness.”
It was back in 2008 that the ICLU first filed a suit to challenge the widespread use of segregation on mentally ill inmates in Indiana.
“The prisoners would spend either 23 or 24 hours a day in their cells, they eat in their cells, they may get an hour of solitary recreation, although frequently recreation is called for at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and if you don’t respond, you don’t get it,” said Faulk. “Frequently prisoners would refuse because recreation is frequently just being taken to another room, or taken to a small area outside.”
While prison is not supposed to be a pleasant place to live, it is expressly forbidden by the U.S. Constitution to be a place that is cruel and inhumane.
“So we have prisoners committing suicide, we have prisoners injuring themselves, we have prisoners becoming more psychotic more delusional,” said Faulk.
The judge’s ruling notes that 11 of the 23 Indiana inmate suicides since 2007 involved mentally ill prisoners who were being held in segregation.
That means nearly half of all prison suicides were committed by 22 percent (mentally ill inmates) of the total prison population.
Judge Tanya Walton Pratt further wrote that there is a difference between mental health monitoring, and mental health treatment. “The IDOC is performing the former in its segregation units, but very little of the latter. The Plaintiff’s thesis that the effect of segregation on mentally ill prisoners in Indiana is toxic to their welfare is supported by a preponderance of the evidence. Without appropriate treatment and appropriate relief, the toxic effects of segregation will continue to cause serious injury to mentally ill prisoners.”
The civil suit was first brought by the ICLU in 2008, so the legal battle has gone on for a long time.
The judge will meet with all parties to the suit within the next 45 days to begin correcting the problems.
As for a possible appeal, News Center 16 contacted the Indiana Attorney General’s office. “As the state’s lawyer, we will review this opinion with our client DOC and decide at the appropriate time the next steps,” said Bryan Corbin, Public Information Officer.