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Court Order Prompts Prison Improvements For Mentally Ill

American Civil Liberties Union officials say they are pleased with the changes the Indiana Department of Corrections has made over the past year to improve its facilities and services for mentally ill inmates.

ACLU representatives and a U.S. District court judge toured the Pendleton Correctional Facility on Wednesday.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued a ruling last year that said the Indiana Department of Corrections was failing to provide its mentally ill prisoners with adequate treatment. During the trial, the ACLU had alleged mentally ill inmates were being put in isolation and deprived of medical attention—and that caused many of them to harm themselves or even in extreme cases commit suicide.

Since then, the Department of Corrections has created a new mental health unit at the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Central Indiana and is building additional housing units that will hold 264 mentally ill inmates.

DOC spokeswoman Amy Kent says the department is also partnering with mental health organizations to train employees on how to best handle mentally ill offenders.

“Mental health needs of offenders are a unique challenge for correctional facilities, and working with criminal justice stakeholders to improve the quality of care for the seriously mentally ill, it’s better for the safety and security of our facilities and it’s also better for the offenders," Kent says.

The improvements are costing the DOC $1.2 million in construction costs and $2.7 million in ongoing personnel cost per year.

After touring the facility, ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk says he’s largely satisfied with the changes.

“The DOC has switched from a very punitive segregation model to a treatment model and it’s very impressive," he said.

Falk says he still has some smaller concerns, including whether the mental health units at other facilities across the state are the same quality as Pendleton’s. He is still talking to the DOC about those issues and expects Judge Pratt to ultimately determine if the DOC needs to make any more improvements.

More than 5,000 inmates or about 12 percent of the state's prison population has been diagnosed with some degree of mental illness.

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