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Rasho v. Jeffreys

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) punishes prisoners with mental illness, rather than properly treating them, and the treatment that is available is grossly inadequate. In May 2016, UPLC entered into a settlement agreement with IDOC to completely revamp the way people with serious mental illnesses are treated in Illinois prisons. Over the last year, our staff has been monitoring the implementation of the settlement, by traveling over 21,000 miles to visit hundreds of prisoners with mental illness in 10 different prisons.

In May 2017, the federal court monitor found that the IDOC is failing to address the guidelines of the settlement. In his 113-page report, he characterized IDOC’s psychiatric care as “grossly insufficient” and “extremely poor” in quality. He found that there was an insufficient number of psychiatric staff, problems with the continuation of medication upon entry into prison, failure to monitor effects of powerful psychiatric medications, enormous backlogs in psychiatric evaluations, and a significant deterioration of mental health for prisoners in solitary confinement. IDOC failed to address his findings, and a month later the monitor declared that psychiatric care in Illinois prisons is in a “state of emergency.” UPLC, in collaboration with Equip for Equality, and pro bono attorneys from Dentons and Mayer Brown, filed a motion to enforce the May 2016 settlement agreement to end the suffering of this severely ill population. 

On October 30, the court granted our motion to enforce and issued a 50-page decision finding that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has been deliberately indifferent to prisoners’ mental health, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“It is clear mentally ill inmates continue to suffer as they wait for the IDOC to do what it said it was going to do,” Judge Mihm said. The court described the changes needed to IDOC’s mental health care as “monumental.”

Attorneys: Alan Mills, Nicole Schult (Uptown People's Law Center), Harold Hirshman (Dentons), Marc Kadish (Mayer Brown), Barry Taylor, Laura Miller, Amanda Antholt (Equip for Equality)

Date Filed: November 7, 2007

Court: U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois

Judge: Judge Michael M. Mihm

Status: Active

Case Number: 7 C 1298


PEORIA — A shortage of psychiatrists and other trained staff has hindered the state's efforts to comply with a federal injunction mandating improvements to the care provided to about 12,000 mentally ill inmates.

Inadequate treatment of mentally ill prisoners is a problem across the U.S. When psychiatric institutions began closing down in the 1950s, they weren't replaced with mental health services in the community. So, many people with mental illness have scrapes with the law, and end up in prisons that are ill-equipped to treat them.

Ashoor Rasho has spent more than half of his life alone in a prison cell—22 to 24 hours a day. The cell was so narrow he could reach his arms out and touch both walls at once.

PEORIA — A federal judge issued a final order Thursday directing the state Department of Corrections to remedy deficiencies in care to more than 12,000 mentally ill inmates.

"A new report by a court-appointed psychiatrist says that the Illinois Department of Corrections continues to flounder with prisoner mental health. Dr. Pablo Stewart was appointed after a lawsuit settlement in 2016 regarding the lack of adequate mental health care in state prisons. And he says he’s convinced the staff are abusing mentally ill inmates at one correctional center, Pontiac."

Lawsuits that challenge mental healthcare and medical care for incarcerated people advance in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections continues to flounder in its efforts to care for inmates with mental illness, according to a new report authored by Dr. Pablo Stewart, a psychiatrist and court-appointed monitor on a 2016 settlement agreement on a class-action lawsuit.

Few days pass without letters being delivered to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm in Peoria from one or more of the 1,105 inmates held in segregation. Most of the mail deals with Mihm’s 2016 order directing the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to complete a major overhaul of mental health care for more than 12,000 inmates on the agency’s mental health caseload.

In a permanent injunction issued Tuesday, a federal judge found that Illinois prison inmates face an ongoing, serious risk of harm because of inadequate mental health care.

In 2016, the Illinois Department of Corrections reached a settlement agreeing to properly care for the needs of mentally ill inmates. The lawsuit was filed a decade ago on behalf of inmates claiming the lack of care in prisons qualified as cruel and unusual punishment. On Wednesday, a federal judge found the corrections department is still failing to meet those needs.

"Reports of physical abuse of mentally ill inmates at Pontiac Correctional Center should be investigated by the state, according to a doctor's report on the state's compliance with a federal court settlement on prison mental health care."

"There is credible evidence of guards physically abusing mentally ill inmates at Pontiac Correctional Center, according to a psychiatrist appointed by a federal court to monitor treatment of mentally ill prisoners by the Illinois Department of Corrections."

"Frustrated lawmakers are quizzing state prison officials and advocates for mentally ill inmates on the potential costs of court-ordered improvements to behavioral health care in the Illinois Department of Corrections."

"The Illinois Department of Corrections is making progress in its effort to create a mental health treatment system that meets constitutional mandates, prison officials told lawmakers Wednesday."

"A federal judge on Tuesday soundly rejected a proposal from the Illinois Department of Corrections to address serious flaws in mental health care for 12,000 state inmates."

"PEORIA — A federal judge on Tuesday soundly rejected a proposal from the Illinois Department of Corrections to address serious flaws in mental health care for 12,000 state inmates." - The Pantagraph

"A federal judge has ruled the Illinois prison system is still providing inadequate mental healthcare to inmates and that the treatment qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment." - NPR WVIK

"The constitutional rights of mentally ill inmates have been violated by the Department of Corrections, a federal judge told attorneys Wednesday, citing the state's failure to comply with an agreement to improve conditions for thousands of prisoners." - Pantagraph

"Advocates say Illinois’ treatment of prisoners with mental illness is so bad — the prison system is in a “state of emergency.” They’re asking a federal judge to intervene." - Peoria Public Radio

"Attorneys representing some 12,000 mentally ill inmates filed a motion Tuesday asking a federal judge to require Illinois Department of Corrections enforce a 2015 settlement agreement reached in the case of Rasho v. Baldwin." - WTTW

"It makes a lot more sense to treat their mental illness in prison than to wait until they are back living in the community, by which time the effects of incarceration may have only made matters worse." - Chicago Sun Times

"Illinois Department of Corrections officials Thursday showed off what will soon be the state's largest residential facility for mentally ill inmates." - The Chicago Tribune

"Illinois prison inmates with serious mental illnesses will soon receive hospital-level care as the Department of Corrections puts the finishing touches on the 44-bed Elgin Treatment Center, the first facility to offer such intensive care to state prisoners who have previously been treated inside prison walls." - The Pantagraph

"A mentally ill inmate at Pontiac Correctional Center will be allowed to move forward with his federal claims against two doctors he accuses of sending him to segregation in retaliation for making complaints against prison staff." - The Pantagraph

"Despite the lack of a state budget and a slow response to employment ads looking for hundreds of new workers, the Illinois Department of Corrections is making progress in its efforts to improve conditions for 11,000 mentally ill prisoners, according to reports provided Friday in federal court." - The Pantagraph

"The Illinois Department of Corrections on Wednesday announced most of its workers have completed mental-illness training. It's part of the settlement in a long-running legal dispute over how Illinois prisons treat inmates with mental-heath disorders." - NPR Illinois

"The Department of Corrections announced Friday it will take over a section of a state-run mental health hospital in Elgin as a ward for prisoners with mental illness." - Northern Public Radio

"Illinois has reached an inter-agency agreement that will allow some of the state’s most severely mentally ill inmates to be treated in an inpatient facility within the Elgin Mental Health Center." - Chicago Sun Times

"An eight-year federal court battle to overhaul mental health treatment in Illinois prisons was resolved Friday with a judge ruling that the settlement between inmates and the state, while not perfect, is fair and will improve the lives of thousands of inmates." - The Pantagraph

"People held in Illinois prisons will receive an improved level of mental health care in coming years, thanks to a major class action settlement in late December." - Solitary Watch

"Alan Mills, an attorney working for the mental health rights of Illinois prison inmates, recalled being shocked by the condition of such an inmate he visited at Menard Correctional Center." - The Pantagraph

"Two experts are touring several Illinois prisons this week to review mental health care and the use of segregation as part of a federal lawsuit on the state's treatment of mentally ill prisoners." - The Pantagraph

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