Montana State Prison Mental Illness Case Reinstated

Jul 19, 2019

A U.S. appeals court Friday said a Montana judge confused two cases when he mistakenly threw out a lawsuit four years ago alleging that inmates with serious mental illnesses weren't receiving the treatment they need.

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon of Great Falls threw out the lawsuit in 2015 by Disability Rights Montana that claims mentally ill inmates in Montana State Prison were being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case and assigned it to a different judge.

The appellate judges ruled that the "horrific treatment of prisoners" is supported by factual allegations.

ACLU of Montana’s Alex Rate said that this is in line with changes many states are making. “What you’re seeing more and more is that courts are recognizing that, that instituting discipline on a prisoner for no other reason than that he has mental health issues constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

Disability Rights Montana alleges in the lawsuit that mentally ill prisoners were denied diagnosis and treatment, were placed in solitary confinement for long periods and that prison officials did not respond appropriately to suicide threats.

“Certainly it doesn’t take an expert or a psychiatrist to understand that if you already have mental health issues, being locked in a cell for 22 hours out of 24 hours in a day is going to exacerbate that condition,” Rate said.  

The ACLU of Montana would like to see a comprehensive overhaul of Montana State Prison policies regarding mentally ill prisoners.

State corrections officials deny the allegations.

Copyright 2019 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.