In a scathing letter to state officials, the advocacy group reported that their investigation “revealed numerous violations of federal law and a pattern of conduct that unquestionably magnifies, instead of reduces, the severity of mental illnesses afflicting prisoners.”
“Our organization exists because lawmakers recognized that people with mental impairments are vulnerable to being mistreated in institutional settings and need advocates to help them,” said Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana, in a news release. “In our investigation of the prison and its practices, we have uncovered shocking and inhumane treatment of people who are mentally ill.”
The letter also describes a practice of failing to screen and evaluate the inmates for mental illnesses. Despite holding likely more than 275 people with mental illness, the prison has just 12 mental health beds.
In 2012, the ACLU reached a settlement with the state limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.
“It was readily apparent during the investigation that these problems were not isolated incidents. They were part of a pattern of unconstitutional and abusive treatment of prisoners with mental illness,” said Jeff Simmons, an attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP who assisted with the investigation, in the news release. “These people have a constitutional right to receive appropriate mental health care and to be free from abusive solitary confinement and ‘behavior modification plans.'”
Disability Rights Montana is the federally funded protection and advocacy system in Montana, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.