INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana has been "deliberately indifferent" to the plight of mentally ill inmates in its state prisons, simply locking them up without providing adequate treatment, a federal judge has ruled.
The conditions violate mentally ill prisoners' constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said.
"Being placed in segregation when you are severely mentally ill ... is torture," Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said at a news conference Wednesday.
About a quarter of the inmates in the Indiana Department of Correction are mentally ill, but the state's two mental health units have room for only about 250 patients. Many others are simply locked alone in their cells, which can make them worse, according to the order issued late on New Year's Eve. A psychiatrist who visited the prison system's main psychiatric unit at New Castle said some of the patients there were "frankly psychotic," yet received little care and were inappropriately taken off medications.
"The Court finds that mentally ill prisoners within the IDOC segregation units are not receiving minimally adequate mental health care in terms of scope, intensity, and duration and the IDOC has been deliberately indifferent," Pratt wrote.
Pratt did not mandate a remedy in her ruling Monday. Lawyers for both sides are supposed to meet within 45 days to discuss how to correct the problem.
The Department of Correction referred comment to the Indiana attorney general's office, which represented the state. A spokesman for that office, Bryan Corbin, said Wednesday that the agency will review the ruling with the Department of Correction and determine the next steps.
Mental health care, like other medical care, is provided by a private contractor called Corizon. The company said in a statement that it is "fully supportive" of the Indiana Department of Correction as the agency reviews the court's ruling.
"We will continue to provide healthcare services in accordance with our contract with the IDOC in its current form or other as may be amended," Corizon's statement said.
The ACLU represented the state Protection and Advocacy Services Commission in the class action lawsuit that was filed in 2008 on behalf of the more than 5,800 mentally ill inmates in Indiana prisons. The commission advocates for the rights of the disabled.