Indiana becomes leader in inmate mental health treatment after lawsuit settlement

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 28, 2016)– With 5,600 mentally-ill inmates, the Indiana Department of Correction houses more persons with psychiatric problems than all other facilities across the state combined.

The Marion County Jail is the leading mental health housing unit in Indianapolis with almost 900 offenders on daily medication.

A landmark agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union, Indiana Protection & Advocacy Services and DOC pushes the state into the lead nationally when it comes to providing for and treating mentally-ill prison inmates.

“All credit to them after the decisions came down to really creating one of the best, if not the best, systems in the United States to deal with seriously mentally ill prisoners,” said ACLU Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk about the settlement of a lawsuit that was filed against DOC in 2008. “These prisoners, all of them are going to be getting out. There are no death row prisoners in these treatment units. These are all prisoners who will be getting out.  It is to society’s advantage, all of our advantage, to treat their mental illness the best we can in prison.”

Under the agreement, no mentally ill inmate will be placed in solitary confinement for more than thirty days while individualized treatment plans for offenders will be followed. Inmates will receive personal as well as group counseling and be given more recreational opportunities.

“Segregation, not surprisingly, is toxic,” said Falk, “particularly to those who are mentally ill but it can exacerbate mild mental illness into profound mental illness and it can cause mental illness being locked up by yourself all that time.”

Falk said six percent of DOC’s mentally-ill population was in solitary confinement.

“There were a lot of prisoners in there for punishment because they had misbehaved because of their mental illness.”

Michael Kempf of National Alliance for Mental Illness trained correction officers at one maximum security prison where cell extractions decreased by more than 70 percent and assaults on staff dropped in half after new protocols were put in place.

“Somebody that has a serious mental illness in prison does have a problem following the procedures and the policies or reacting in an appropriate time frame,” said Kempf who estimates 20 percent of all state inmates fall in that category. “We have educated the correctional officers to understand to not to expect a quick response. We give them guidelines as to how to react and how to interact with somebody who has a serious mental illness when they’re dealing with them.”

Falk pointed to a new 250-bed facility for the mentally ill at Pendleton Correctional Facility as proof of DOC’s enlightenment and openness to new strategies, policies and treatment of offenders suffering from psychiatric conditions.

A federal judge is expected to sign off on the new agreement in late March.

The ACLU and advocacy groups will continue to monitor the system for three years.

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