Montana has agreed to halt solitary confinement and making unrealistic expectations of seriously mentally ill prisoners, The Associated Press reports.
“This settlement represents huge gains for the humane treatment of inmates with severe mental illness,” said Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana.
The change came in the settlement of a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 by Disability Rights Montana. It prohibits solitary confinement for prisoners who behave badly because of illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
Disability Rights Montana is a federal watchdog that monitors and investigates establishments for civil rights violations of the disabled.
A Disability Rights Montana investigation revealed that mentally ill patients were placed in solitary confinement without clothing, bedding and functional toilets.
Patients were placed in such inhumane conditions based simply on behavior caused by the patient’s mental illness. Some of the patients were misdiagnosed and their medication withheld.
Under the agreement terms, the Montana State Prison must provide qualified mental health professionals who are obligated to implement a written individual treatment plan for each patient under their care, AP reported March 17.
The Montana Department of Corrections has one year to complete the modifications of the facility, according to the terms of the settlement.
“We still have a long way to go to reinstate the dignity of the incarcerated individuals in Montana, but it can no longer be said that solitary confinement exists for mentally ill individuals at the Montana State Prison,” said Caitlin Borgman, executive director of the ACLU of Montana.
The department has asked Gov. Greg Gianforte for funding in his 2023-24 budget for three more licensed therapists, three more mental health technicians and two more activities coordinators.