ACLU of Indiana, Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services Announce Settlement with Department of Correction

Agreement with DOC marks fundamental, systemic change in the treatment of seriously mentally ill prisoners.

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
January 27, 2016 3:00 pm

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Indiana
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Indianapolis –A long-running class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission against the Indiana Department of Correction has been settled with a proposed agreement that awaits approval by the Court after notice to the class. If approved the agreement will fundamentally transform the way seriously mentally ill prisoners are treated in state correctional facilities. The changes will affect hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners in Indiana who will receive better access to mental health care and who will no longer be held without treatment in solitary confinement.

The agreement prohibits, with some exceptions, the confinement of seriously mentally ill prisoners in restrictive status housing or protective custody (i.e., solitary confinement). As a general rule, no prisoner who is seriously mentally ill will be placed into restrictive housing. The agreement uses a definition of severe mental illness that includes people who entered solitary with less than severe mental illnesses but whose mental health has deteriorated due to solitary. And, the agreement provides for “minimum adequate treatment” for these prisoners, which includes:

  • An individualized treatment plan created by a team consisting of mental health professionals and correctional staff who are familiar with the prisoner, reviewed at least every 90 days
  • 10 hours each week of therapeutic programming, which includes individual and group therapy
  • Recreation and showers
  • Additional therapy and out-of-cell time where possible and appropriate

The agreement also stipulates that prisoners in restrictive housing will receive frequent monitoring of their mental health status and needs by mental health personnel, including daily visits by correctional and medical staff during each shift to make sure their mental health does not worsen. In addition, any prisoner with a mental health diagnosis in restricted housing will be visited at least once a week by mental health personnel and offered monthly out-of-cell monitoring by a mental health professional.

“The Indiana Department of Correction has made extraordinary efforts to address the treatment of severely mentally ill prisoners in its care. The DOC has increased both correctional staffing and mental health staffing and is largely already in compliance with the settlement agreement,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “We fully anticipate this cooperation will continue and that these changes will have a significant positive impact by reducing the severity of mental illness in prisoners who will one day rejoin society.”

“As a result of this litigation, prisoners with mental illness have more opportunities for treatment than ever before. This case opened the door to more positive outcomes for up to 5,600 people with a mental health diagnosis currently in Indiana prisons,” said Dawn Adams, Executive Director of IPAS. “IPAS will remain actively engaged in the work of protecting the rights of people with mental illness by monitoring the changes at IDOC facilities. This case, once again, underscores the importance of access to care for people with mental illness and highlights the need for reform in our mental health system.”

In 2012, the ACLU of Indiana and IPAS prevailed in a lawsuit against the DOC filed in 2008 on behalf of IPAS and three individuals who represented a class of inmates with serious mental illnesses. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the DOC, which had been placing seriously mentally ill prisoners in isolation with little or no access to treatment, violated Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates subjected to these conditions faced significant worsening of symptoms and illness, including hallucinations, increased paranoia and depression, self-harm and suicide.

At the time of Judge Pratt’s 2012 ruling, the court ordered that the parties try to work out a final resolution to the case. Since then the ACLU and IPAS have been working with the DOC to reach a comprehensive agreement that has vastly improved conditions of confinement for inmates with serious mental illnesses.

Following the Court’s 2012 decision, the DOC opened up the new Pendleton Treatment Unit/INSIGHT Unit (Intent on Shaping Individual Growth with Holistic Treatment) for the care of some seriously mentally ill prisoners. The 250-bed unit will accommodate many prisoners formerly held in isolation. Seriously mentally ill prisoners may also be housed in special needs units at the Indiana Women’s Prison, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility and in the New Castle Psychiatric Facility.

The private settlement agreement, Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission, et al., v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, Case No. 1:08-cv-01317-TWP-MJD, was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana Indianapolis Division on Jan. 27, 2016. Attorneys on the case include Kenneth J. Falk, Gavin M. Rose and Jan P. Mensz, ACLU of Indiana and Melissa L. Keyes and Thomas E. Crishon, Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release