In a permanent injunction issued Tuesday, a federal judge found that Illinois prison inmates face an ongoing, serious risk of harm because of inadequate mental health care.
Judge Michael Mihm gave the Department of Corrections 14 days to submit a plan to address what he called “systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing” that denies more than 12,000 mentally ill inmates adequate treatment and care. The ruling was handed down by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in Peoria. […]
“A civilized society cares for the helpless. The IDOC has shirked this responsibility year after year. They should be ashamed,” [Harold Hirshman, one of the attorneys for inmates] added. […]
On the issue of segregation, Mihm noted that over 80 percent of the 1,105 inmates held in their cells 22 to 23 hours a day are mentally ill. In his testimony, [Pablo Stewart,a court-appointed monitor] called the inmates in segregation “some of the sickest individuals psychiatrically that I’ve seen in my career, and I’ve worked with seriously mentally ill (people). And these people are just suffering immensely.”
The order is here.
Once the state responds, the inmates’ attorneys will have a chance to respond and then the judge could turn the whole thing over to a special receiver who would oversee the prison system’s mental health reforms.
We are disappointed by the court’s findings but remain committed to continuing to improve the quality of care for offenders on the mental health caseload. It’s important to point out that the court noted IDOC’s serious efforts to improve the care for offenders with mental illness and outlined several accomplishments, including:
· The Department has implemented policies and procedures to improve mental health services.
· The Department has invested more than $45 million to build new facilities and rehabilitate existing facilities to provide mental health services to offenders.
· Plans are in place to construct a $150 million mental health and general medicine hospital for seriously mentally ill offenders.
In addition to these considerable improvements, other steps have been made to improve outcomes:
· The Department has reduced segregation time by 47.5% since 2015 and has drastically increased out of cell time for offenders who are housed in segregation.
· The Department has invested thousands of hours providing critical training for staff, which equips them with the knowledge and skills to safely defuse situations and meet the unique needs of the mentally ill population.
· The Department created the position of Correctional Treatment Officer, which requires a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or social work. In the past year, the Department has hired dozens of Correctional Treatment Officers for Joliet and Elgin Treatment Centers.
· The Department has implemented additional programming for offenders who are on the mental health caseload.
The Department acknowledges its need for additional mental health professionals, and has been laser focused on recruiting new staff. We have dramatically increased our presence at hiring events throughout the state. In addition, we are expanding our partnerships with Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois.
…Adding… Keep in mind here that this lawsuit was filed eleven years ago. It’s been a problem for a very long time.