Federal Bureau of Prisons Sued Over Denial of Mental Health Care at U.S. Penitentiary Lee

For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Kristin L. McGough, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
[email protected] | 202-319-1000
W. Hunter Winstead, Gilbert LLP
[email protected] | 202-772-3344

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, incarcerated individuals with serious mental health care needs at United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee in Pennington Gap, Virginia filed a class action lawsuit against the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the Warden at USP Lee and USP Lee medical staff, among others, on behalf of themselves and other incarcerated individuals. In the face of a culture where the Chief Psychologist tells residents, “We don’t do that psych shit here”, these brave individuals have stepped forward to demand that the BOP meet its constitutional obligations to provide them with the mental health care they desperately need.

Individuals incarcerated in the BOP must rely entirely on BOP staff to ensure that they are receiving proper healthcare. Access to adequate healthcare while incarcerated is crucial to rehabilitation—reducing the likelihood of recidivism—as well as to ensuring the safety of those incarcerated. The Supreme Court of the United States has long held that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, including mental health needs, violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. At USP Lee, residents are regularly and systematically denied mental health care, including access to medication and psychology appointments.

Nearly all of the named Plaintiffs and identified class members have been long-diagnosed with serious mental health disorders, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Each managed their disorders with medication at multiple other BOP facilities, and each of these individuals were taken off their mental health medication shortly after arriving at USP Lee. For years, USP Lee staff have continuously denied these and other residents access to both mental health treatment and mental health professionals, even after residents’ repeated requests for help.

After being abruptly taken off their medications, these individuals suffered and continue to suffer physical harm, mental anguish and emotional distress, with symptoms ranging from insomnia and anxiety to suicidal thoughts and periods of mania. Not only that, but BOP staff have retaliated against residents who ask for mental health care, often physically and emotionally abusing them and further compounding their mental and emotional distress.

Both the named Plaintiffs and identified class members seek to improve conditions and culture at USP Lee to a level that evokes respect for the dignity of the human being, ensuring that everyone incarcerated at USP Lee is provided with proper mental health care. They are represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Gilbert LLP.

Read the filed complaint here.

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