ACLU of Arkansas Sues Jail and Hospital Officials Over Lack of Treatment for Mentally Ill Inmates

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
July 16, 2001 12:00 am

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LITTLE ROCK–In a federal class-action lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today charged state mental health and law enforcement officials with failing to provide treatment for mentally ill people in jail awaiting trial or removal to a hospital.

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of James M. Terry, who was ordered committed by the Sebastian County Circuit Court on February 2 of this year. Despite his State Hospital diagnosis of psychotic disorder and borderline intellectual functioning, he has been sitting in jail in a legal limbo for at least six months, without medication or treatment.

“”Most of us like to think that the days of the mentally ill languishing in jails among the general population went the way of the rack and thumb screws,”” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar, “but we’re obviously wrong.””

Sklar said Terry is just one of dozens of people with severe mental illness in Arkansas jails; the ACLU lawsuit requests relief for all those similarly situated.

In its legal complaint, filed against Deputy Director of the Division of Mental Health Richard Hill and Sebastian County Sheriff Frank Atkinson, the ACLU said that “”despite the knowledge of the risk of harm to inmates,”” officials have failed to establish “”proper policies, practices or procedures to insure timely mental health evaluations and/or mental health treatment for inmates in criminal detention facilities.”

The lawsuit seeks a court judgement that the failure to provide mental health treatment in the criminal detention facilities violates the rights of plaintiffs to due process of law and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The lawsuit also asks the Court to order: 1) forensic evaluations within a proscribed period after a court order; 2) the formulation of policies and procedures by County Sheriffs to provide for adequate mental health care treatment and timely mental health care evaluations for their inmates; 3) immediate and adequate treatment of James Terry; 4) compensatory damages for Mr. Terry.

The lawsuit was filed by Terry’s mother, who is acting as “next friend” for her son, who cannot act on his own behalf. Little Rock Attorneys Bettina Brownstein and Paul James are representing Mr. Terry for the ACLU of Arkansas.

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