ACLU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Iowa Inmate Denied Medication to Control Mental Illness

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
June 13, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU of Iowa
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DES MOINES–The Iowa Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a schizophrenic prisoner who was punished for misbehavior that occurred after prison officials withheld medications that would have controlled her illness.

Attorney Pat Hulting of Des Moines, one of the ICLU’s volunteer lawyers in the case, said that the organization took the case to spur badly needed reforms that appear to be underway at the Department of Corrections. Hopefully, she said, “”these reforms will filter down into the culture of the individual facilities where they can do the most good.””

The ICLU’s client, Wendy Pyburn, was sentenced in January 2000 to serve a two-year prison sentence for prostitution. Prior to entering prison, she was placed on medication through Broadlawns Polk County Hospital and her symptoms of schizophrenia subsided. However, when she was finally transferred to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale, prison officials discontinued her medications.

Though prison officials knew the woman was deteriorating and had a 10-year history of mental illness, they refused to provide her with the treatment she needed. Because she wasn’t medicated, she suffered from hallucinations, disordered thinking and social isolation.

The ICLU complaint said that despite her obvious need for psychiatric care and despite her being transferred to other Iowa prisons, Pyburn was never offered the medication she required. Some staff reports claimed that Pyburn had been refusing medication, but Pyburn’s prison medical records, as produced for her attorneys, do not show that such medication was ever prescribed or offered.

Pyburn’s condition steadily worsened until August 2000, when prison officials transferred her back to the medical center at Oakdale in order to initiate an emergency mental health commitment. At this time she finally was offered, and began voluntarily taking, medications for her schizophrenia. Her condition subsequently improved.

By September 2000, Pyburn was well enough to return to the disciplinary detention unit at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville to complete sanctions that had been imposed on her when she had been actively mentally ill.

Polk County Mental Health Advocate Jack Holveck intervened in the Fall of 2000 with prison officials on behalf of Pyburn. Mr. Holveck succeeded in convincing officials to review Pyburn’s disciplinary sanctions. She was finally released from prison in January of 2001.

In addition to Hulting, Ms. Pyburn is represented by ICLU cooperating attorney Stephen M. Terrill of Ames. The defendants in the case are: Joshua Nnanji, M.D., psychologist Pat Millen, IWCI staff supervisor Paul Rode, ICIW Warden Diann Wilder-Tomlinson, and the Iowa Department of Corrections. The lawsuit has been filed in the Iowa District Court for Polk County.

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