“Callous and Cruel” Treatment of Inmates with Mental Disabilities


Paul Schlosser III

Excessive force against prisoners with mental health problems is widespread in American jails and prison, and may be increasing, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, reviewed hundreds of individual and class action court cases, as well as U.S. Justice Department investigations, and interviewed for the report more than 125 current and former corrections officials, experts, psychiatrists and advocates.

“Staff at times have responded with violence when prisoners engage in behavior that is symptomatic of their mental health problems, even if it is minor and non-threatening misconduct such as urinating on the floor, using profane language, or banging on a cell door,” the report's authors wrote. “They have used such force in the absence of any emergency, and without first making serious attempts to secure the inmate's compliance through other means.”

The 126-page report, Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” includes accounts of inmates injured or killed as a result of corporal punishment.

Sometimes corporal punishment consists of prolonged vicious beatings by one or more officers in which there is not even a pretense of necessity,” the report's authors wrote. “Sometimes chemical agents and the restraint chair are used 'as a means of imposing summary and corporal punishment on mentally ill inmates who are not engaged in active or combative resistance, and in the absence of an objective and immediate enforcement necessity to incapacitate, neutralize or immobilize.'”

The report blames poor mental health care and training, as well as inadequate use-of-force policies, for excessive force against prisoners with mental health issues.

Read the full report HERE.

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