Treating Mentally Ill Offenders


Lawyers for 600 seriously mentally ill inmates housed in Illinois prisons want to expand a federal lawsuit to include all 11,000 prisoners on the state’s mental health caseload.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2007 by inmate Ashoor Rasho, accuses the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) of denying adequate mental health care to inmates whose conditions often deteriorate without proper treatment.

The state and lawyers for a group of more than 600 inmates with the most serious behavioral conditions have been working on a settlement of the federal lawsuit that calls for $100 million in expenditures for added staff and facilities.

On July 7, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm will hear arguments from both sides on whether the lawsuit should be expanded to include all 11,000 inmates currently on the mental health caseload in Illinois prisons.

In court filings in support of the new litigation class, lawyer Harold Hirschman claims the lack of adequate assessment and treated harms or has the potential to harm every mentally ill inmate.

“The Eighth Amendment protects an inmate not only from deliberate indifference to his or her current serious health problems, but also from deliberate indifference to conditions posing an unreasonable risk of serious damage to future health,” said Hirchman.

An acknowledgement by IDOC that at least 20 percent of its 48,000 inmates need mental health care in a system that’s short on staff and resources shows the expanded class is necessary, said the inmates’ lawyers.

In response, state lawyers argue such a move would require individual reviews of each inmate’s medical history to determine what services are needed or may be lacking. With the constant influx and release of prisoners, the undertaking would be impractical, argues the state.

The IDOC also disagrees with the inmates’ position that all prisoners — not just those with a serious medical condition — must receive treatment.

“It is inconsequential that some class members may receive different (unsuccessful and haphazard) treatment plans and/or medications, or that class members are located in different IDOC facilities,” Hirschman said in his filing for the inmates.

The two sides are working toward a resolution of the lawsuit that will create four treatment units, and add 352 clinical workers and 200 security staff. One of the final points to be resolved is how to provide hospital-level mental health care that does not currently exist.

Edith Brady-Lunny, a 2015 John Jay/Langeloth Mental Health and Justice Reporting Fellow, is a staff writer for The Pantagraph. This story first appeared in The Pantagraph on June 24. For the full version, please click HERE. Brady Lunny welcomes comments from readers.

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