John McClellan took his own life in May 2011 at SCI-Cresson, a Pennsylvania state correctional facility. McClellan’s death and alleged treatment by staff leading up to his suicide is the centerpiece of allegations lodged in a federal lawsuit filed by the Disability Rights Network and the ACLU.
The lawsuit describes the use of solitary confinement on mentally ill prisoners as a “Dickensian nightmare.” Robert Meek, an attorney for the Disability Rights Network, said that discussions with the state about a possible settlement in the case filed last month are due to begin soon.
It is the latest in a series of similar lawsuits filed by advocacy groups across the country alleging that state prison systems have not been providing adequate treatment to mentally ill inmates, reported the Johnstown Tribune Democrat.
In all cases, the lawsuits were not seeking money, just changes in the way prisons respond to the mentally ill.
“In general, I can say, we just want them to provide the adequate care,” Meek said.
In all cases, advocates spent years trying to get state prisons to make changes before finally resorting to lawsuits as a last resort, he said. Meek said his organization began trying to get the Department of Corrections to change its policies in 2006.
The lawsuit alleges that the mental health counseling that inmates in solitary confinement receive essentially consists of someone speaking to them through slots in a cell door.
The seriousness of the struggle to provide adequate treatment for the mentally ill has attracted the notice of lawmakers. The state House Judiciary Committee has forwarded a resolution to the full House that would ask a Joint State Government Commission to conduct a thorough review of the existing mental health system in the state.
The author of that legislation, Rep. Thomas Caltagirone said that Department of Corrections data suggest that as many as 20 percent of male prison inmates may have serious mental health problems. For female inmates, the numbers are worse: 40 percent may have serious mental illness.
Meek told the Tribune Democrat that the lawsuit focused on the use of solitary confinement because that provided the best opportunity to demonstrate a violation of constitutional rights. There is also ample documentation of the detrimental effect of using solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates, Meek said. The issue has been repeatedly examined in lawsuits in other states, he said.
To read more: http://tribune-democrat.com/local/x508488134/Critics-Pa-prison-system-fails-to-treat-mentally-ill