Lawsuit Alleges Cruel and Unusual Conditions for Mentally Ill in Montana Prison
According to the lawsuit, prisoners are subject to solitary confinement in spaces that sometimes have blacked-out windows, as well as “behavior management plans”—whereby a prisoner is put in 24-hour solitary confinement with only a mattress, blanket, a suicide smock, and nutraloaf, a tasteless, controversial food product that civil rights groups have alleged is unconstitutional. (In 2003, the Montana Supreme Court also ruled that behavior management plans are illegal.) “One prisoner with serious mental illness explained that being placed in solitary confinement makes him feel like a young child locked in a closet with nothing to do and, as a result, he spreads feces on the walls of his cell to keep bad spirits away,” the complaint reads.
In a case outlined in the lawsuit, a 50-year-old prisoner sentenced “guilty but mentally ill” in 2006, was placed in a state hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. At the state hospital, staff allegedly described him as “polite, friendly, cooperative, and socializing appropriately with staff and peers.” But after he was suspected of stealing another patient’s jewelry, he was transferred to prison and placed in solitary confinement. In 2012, the prison’s doctor allegedly discontinued the prisoner’s antipsychotic medication, because he believed the man was “malingering.” The prisoner told mental health staff that he wanted to cry when placed in “the hole” because he did not “do hole time well,” according to the lawsuit.
In another case outlined in the lawsuit, a 43-year-old prisoner with a very low IQ score of 78, was transferred to prison from a community group home. There, he was placed in solitary confinement for more than three years for acts that the plaintiffs allege were related to his mental illness, such as “banging his head until it bled on his cell door while asking for real food instead of nutraloaf, crying and saying people on the floor were talking to him[, and] attempting suicide,” according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim that the doctor also stopped giving the prisoner medication, on the basis that he was “simply malingering,” and “laughed at” the prisoner after he complained about losing his medication.