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Judge Wants Answers On Treatment Of Mentally Ill Inmates

Prisoners at the Branchville Correctional Facility walk in the prison's courtyard.

A U.S. District Court judge told the Indiana Department of Correction in December to improve the way they handle mentally ill inmates. The DOC was accused of locking inmates with mental disabilities in solitary confinement for hours at a time.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the DOC has failed to make changes since the order was issued and the DOC will have to answer to those allegations during a hearing at the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. There, the DOC is expected to outline its exact plans for improving conditions for mentally ill inmates.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt’s hearing demands stem from a 2011 ACLU-backed lawsuit which ruled that the treatment of mentally ill inmates in Indiana prisons was detrimental to inmates health, and a violation of their rights.

Indiana ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk says with so much damage being done, the DOC needs to act quickly.

“I’m hoping that we get much closer to a permanent solution,” Falk says. “The decision was December 31 and we still have no changes in how the department is behaving towards these mentally ill prisoners, and we obviously need to reach a resolution as quickly as possible because as the court noted the prisoners are suffering a violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

Joshua Sprunger is the Executive Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Indiana. He says the system must be changed to not only help the mentally ill behind bars, but also help them successfully return to society.

“Our prison systems are designed by nature for public safety, not for treatment, so the systems that our corrections officials are using and developing are really trying to adapt to needs that the system wasn’t built for,” Sprunger says.

In a prepared statement DOC officials say they are working with all parties involved to comply with the court’s order.

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