Report: IDOC mental health care still ‘unconstitutional’ after class action settlement

Image by Lisa Kennedy from Pixabay

Released on Friday, Aug. 23, a report found that the Illinois Department of Corrections has failed to comply with any of the five mandates in a class action suit over mental healthcare five years ago.

The report was created by Dr. Pablo Stewart, an independent, court-appointed monitor, as a result of the class action lawsuit Rasho v. Jeffreys, brought by Dentons, Equip for Equality, and Uptown People’s Law Center.

The report stated that in two years since the court ordered changes, the IDOC has failed to:

  • Staffing: “It remains the opinion of the Monitor that the major impediment preventing the Department from meeting the requirements of the Court’s orders is inadequate staffing. This lack of staffing applies to clinical and custody staff.”
  • Crisis Watch: “[T]reatments were not sufficient to stabilize the symptoms and protect against decompensation, demonstrated in part by the very long crisis watches in which the patients presumably were not stable.”
  • Out of Cell Time for Prisoners in Solitary: “The amounts of counseling and out of cell structured and unstructured time [provided to prisoners in solitary confinement] are far below what is needed and sufficient to protect against decompensation.”
  • Medication Management: “I am disappointed to note that several of the IDOC facilities with large numbers of class members persist with unacceptably early morning medication distribution times.” [Prisoners at times have to stand outside at, e.g., 4AM to get medication.]
  • Individual Treatment Plans: “All class members do not have a treatment plan that is individualized and particularized based on the patient’s specific needs.”

IDOC says over 42% of prisoners have mental illness, though prisoners’ advocates say that, due to the lack of adequate screening, and the stigma around mental illness, that figure is likely incorrectly low.

“Tragically, this state has decided to lock people with the most serious mental illnesses in prison, rather than place them in a hospital. Having made this choice, the state then has a constitutional obligation to treat their mental illnesses. Five years after the original case settlement, people are still suffering terribly. I have toured the prisons where people are housed: the pain and suffering is indescribable, and must be seen to be understood. These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, and we are damaging them again and again during their time in prison. It is long past time for Illinois to comply with the court’s orders, and the United States Constitution,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center.

When contacted for comment, the IDOC emailed this statement:

IDOC staff have a professional and moral obligation to protect the safety and health of individuals sentenced to our custody and treat them with dignity.   The Mental Health of the individuals in custody is a top priority as evidenced by the Rasho Court’s finding of the Department’s substantial compliance with a large majority of the Settlement Agreement in this case just four months ago. The Department will respond to the federal monitor’s report in the regular course of this litigation.

Due to pending litigation, no further information can be provided at this time.

You can read the full report here.