The report – which the organization says involved interviews with 125 jail officials, mental health professionals, lawyers, academics, prisoners, and other experts – sharply criticized an array of incidents which it argues has systematically traumatized mentally ill inmates.
Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections, which handles the state prison system, has also taken fire in recent years for its treatment of mentally ill inmates. In January, the department settled pledged to make sweeping changes after settling with the Disability Rights Network over a lawsuit that alleged that inmates with serious mental illness were being isolated for at least 23 hours a day, severely aggravating their symptoms.
The lawsuit was accompanied by an independent investigation into Pennsylvania's state prison system by the U.S. Department of Justice. In its report, Human Rights Watch draws from several observations about Pennsylvania's prison system that were highlighted by federal investigators, including:
- Mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania are twice as likely to be placed in solitary confinement compared to non-mentally ill prisoners.
- In one Pennsylvania prison, there was a "disturbing tendency" by many prison clinicians to describe almost all disruptive conduct as purely willful and not connected with a prison's mental instability.
- A mentally ill person was subjected to five months solitary confinement. When he attempted to hang himself, he was removed from solitary confinement for one day and then returned for another five months. He told investigators that he became extremely depressed and experienced visual hallucinations: including seeing his dead brother encourage him to cut himself.
"The misuse of force is more likely in facilities that are overcrowded, have abysmal physical conditions, and lack educational, rehabilitative, and vocational programs for inmate," the report read. "Force is also more likely where custody staff are too few in number relative to the number of prisoners, are poorly paid, are poorly trained in inter-personal skills and conflict resolution, or are poorly supervised."
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