Montana corrections officials want to continue using certain controversial punishments on unruly prisoners at Montana State Prison — treatments the state’s top court condemned this spring as contributing to “cruel and unusual” conditions. The corrections department’s lawyer told a judge that major changes would be made in “behavior management plans” that were criticized by the Montana Supreme Court. The state would end the practice of locking inmates naked in barren cells and would satisfy the court’s concerns about the humane treatment of inmates, the lawyer said.
The state argues that the Supreme Court did not forbid all behavior management plans, only plans that, when combined with the living conditions of a certain prison wing, worsened a mentally ill inmate’s mental condition. The prison should be able to use behavior management plans on prisoners who are acting up but are not mentally ill, the department says.
The issue dates to 1999, when a former inmate who was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was locked naked in a bare cells for up to 15 days, sometimes without water, a mattress or his pillow. The state high court called that unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment
Behavior management plans are ways of controlling unruly inmates using a carrot-and-stick approach. They involve depriving the prisoner of some basics — like a mattress or water — for a period of time. If the prisoner behaves appropriately, the items will be returned. If a prisoner flooded his cell by over-flushing his toilet, for example, he would have his water turned off for a few days. The plans also involved taking an inmate’s mattress away, leaving him with nothing but a thick “suicide blanket” to sleep on and — in some circumstances — taking away the inmate’s clothing.