DRN, the state-designated non-profit protection and advocacy organization for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, filed the action in federal court in Harrisburg in March 2013, following a lengthy investigation, including a review of thousands of pages of records and interviews with hundreds of prisoners. Settlement negotiations began soon thereafter, and culminated in the agreement announced today. In the settlement, DOC has agreed to a complete, state-wide overhaul of its policies and practices affecting prisoners with serious mental illness. Among other reforms, the state has now agreed to stop housing inmates with serious mental illness in the harsh conditions of solitary confinement in the RHU. New treatment units are to be established to provide appropriate mental health treatment. While there will continue to be secure units for some inmates, even those units will provide significant out-of-cell time both for therapeutic and non-therapeutic activities. These new units and the treatment and programming provided in them are aimed at ensuring that inmates with serious mental illness have the least amount of restrictions placed on them as clinically necessary.
“We are extremely pleased with the settlement. It guarantees that inmates with serious mental illness in our state will be free of the horrific conditions of the RHU and will receive appropriate mental health treatment and other services. Now they will be able to maintain their mental stability, take advantage of parole-eligibility programming, and serve their sentences in a way that does not punish them merely for having a serious mental illness,” said Peri Jude Radecic, CEO of DRN. Robert W. Meek, DRN’s lead counsel, added, “This settlement has teeth. A monitor designated by DRN will accurately measure compliance and report on whether the state is fully and effectively implementing the historic reforms announced today. DRN stands ready to ensure that the rights of mentally disabled prisoners will continue to be protected.”
DRN was ably assisted in the litigation by the law firm of Covington & Burling, LLP; David Rudovsky, Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg, LLC, Philadelphia, PA; Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Philadelphia, PA; and the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, PA.
Source: Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania