Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of PA Prisoners with Serious Mental Illness

Mar 12, 2013

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness alleging prisoners were not given adequate treatment in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit alleges the Department of Corrections violates the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder by isolating them in solitary confinement and not offering them sufficient or proper treatment.

Robert Meek, an attorney with The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, which filed the federal lawsuit, said oftentimes, the prisoners are punished for violation of rules while they are reacting to hallucinations or delusions.

“They simply are acting out because of their mental illness – they get written up for symptoms frequently because of their mental illness,”

Meek says while mental health workers do walk by and check in on prisoners and ask how they are, the mental health treatment isn’t adequate.  Further, he says prisoners often feel that what they share will be used against them by either workers or other prisoners.

"That’s just often a problematic thing for prisoners because prisoners tend to pick up on information and use it to intimidate and harass other prisoners,” said Meek. 

Meek said the Department of Corrections confines about 800 people with serious mental illnesses without adequate mental health services. They are locked down at least 23 hours a day in cells as small as 80 square feet. 

The lawsuit Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania v. Wetzel was filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Prisoners with serious mental illness make up about 33 percent of the solitary confinement population.