Class-Action Lawsuit Challenges Failure of Illinois Officials to Provide Adequate Mental Health Treatment

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
February 27, 2002 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–Claiming that the treatment needs of the emotionally disturbed are not being met, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of four individuals currently being held in Joliet Correctional Center under the state’s Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act.

“If these persons are in detention because they have a treatable mental disability, the state must provide reasonable mental health care treatment for each individual,” said Benjamin Wolf, Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Institutionalized Persons Project.

The ACLU lawsuit, filed here in U.S. District Court, charges that the Illinois Department of Human Services not only mistreated the four, but has not properly developed and implemented a regimen of mental health treatment required by law. The lawsuit notes that while scores of individuals have been committed to the Joliet facility under the law, only a few have successfully completed a treatment course making them eligible for release.

The lawsuit asks the Illinois Department of Human Services to develop and implement a plan that insures that persons held under the commitment act receive meaningful mental health treatment while being held in custody.

Specifically, the ACLU complaint notes that the Department has failed: (1) to properly train staff regarding the treatment of sexual deviance; (2) to provide a coherent and meaningful individualized treatment program for each detainee, complete with a series of steps necessary for treatment and release; (3) to develop and make available fair and reasonable grievance procedures for persons held in the Joliet Correctional Center under terms of the commitment law; (4) to allow residents reasonable access to educational, religious, and vocational materials; (5) to end the practice of compelling – as part of treatment – patients to admit to a list of real or imagined criminal acts; and (6) to protect basic therapist/patient confidentiality.

Today’s lawsuit also notes that conditions for the detainees are more restrictive than conditions they faced when they were in prison for their criminal acts. According to the ACLU complaint, detainees are routinely strip-searched, regularly shackled with heavy restraints, denied freedom of movement, barred from purchasing various products (including nail clippers, aspirin, vitamins or eye drops), and subjected to constant surveillance by personnel from the Department of Human Services.

“”The inadequacy of the care currently being provided, coupled with the overly restrictive conditions of confinement for these detainees suggests that the state is using civil confinement only as a means of further punishing these individuals,”” Wolf said.

“Major national mental health groups, including the American Psychiatric Association, have warned against the misuse of civil commitment for persons convicted of sexual offenses, particularly if there is a lack of meaningful treatment,” he added. “This punishment stands in direct contradiction to the original purpose of the act, which is to provide treatment, and violates our clients’ constitutional rights.”

More than 150 persons are currently detained in Joliet under the commitment law. Under the terms of that statute, an individual is committed to the custody of the Department of Human Services if he has been convicted or acquitted by reason of insanity of certain sexual offenses; and has been found to have a mental disorder that creates a substantial possibility that he will engage in future acts of sexual violence.

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