Class-action lawsuit: Pennsylvania's mentally ill inmates stuck in isolation
By The Associated Press
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013, 2:00 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of mentally-ill inmates in Pennsylvania languish for months and even years in isolated cells, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Monday that says the “Dickensian” practice only exacerbates their condition.
The federal lawsuit accuses state prison officials of punishing the mentally ill for head-banging, hallucinations and other psychotic behaviors instead of getting them needed medical care.
About one-third of the 2,400 inmates kept in restricted custody across the state suffer from serious mental-health problems, according to the suit. They spend 23 hours a day in small, windowless cells, and have little contact with other human beings.
A few have been held in solitary for more than a decade as punishment for various infractions, leading some to attempt suicide, advocates said.
“They don't know what time it is, or what day it is. They have no feedback loop with reality,” said Robert W. Meek, a lead attorney with the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, which filed the suit in Harrisburg against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
The five state prisons in Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland counties had 546 people in restricted housing units in February, according to the state Department of Corrections. The department didn't have a breakdown on how many of those inmates are mentally ill.
The corrections agency had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment, spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said.
Similar lawsuits were filed across the country in recent years, in states including Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, some through the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project.
“Prolonged isolation under these extremely harsh conditions exacerbates the symptoms of the prisoners' mental illness, which can include refusing to leave their cells, declining medical treatment, sleeplessness, hallucinations, paranoia, covering themselves with feces, head banging, injuring themselves and prison staff, and suicide,” the Pennsylvania lawsuit said.
The ensuing behavior becomes the subject of further rule violations that warrant more time in solitary, Meek said.
“The result is a Dickensian nightmare, in which many prisoners, because of their mental illness, are trapped in an endless cycle of isolation and punishment,” the lawsuit said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Retired Pa. Game Commission chief to get $220K severance payment
- Pennsylvania leaders expect pope may visit Philly in 2015
- LCB marketing director to leave
- Greene County proposes more than $200,000 for Brave sewage plant rehab
- Corbett selects hockey executive for PSU board
- Pennsylvania municipalities to get more road repair money from liquid fuels payments
- GOP says privatizing LCB could aid budget
- RMU poll: Dem women not behind Obamacare backers
- Dems’ debate assails Gov. Corbett
- Russian-born man still jailed in bomb case
- Pennsylvania plans experimental program to allow inmates computer tablets