Ending a Crisis for Mentally Ill Prisoners

The Administrative Maximum (ADX) Facility in Florence, Colorado is the highest security prison in the federal prison system. This supermax prison engages in extreme forms of isolation. Prisoners are held for years, and in some cases decades, without any meaningful human contact in cells the size of a parking space. In the Control Unit, the most restrictive confinement in the facility, mentally ill prisoners are denied essential psychotropic medications. Some prisoners who entered the facility without mental illness went into crisis because of the conditions.

After more than four years of litigation, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP reached a settlement with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). After hearing the testimony of a dozen prisoners, the Court approved the settlement and described the conditions as ranging from “disturbing to disgusting.”

The settlement requires the BOP to ensure that men with serious mental illnesses are not confined to ADX and the men who remain there have access to expanded programming and monitoring of their condition and care. The Court has appointed monitors who will conduct independent investigations to ensure that the BOP is following its obligations under the settlement.

ADX will continue to be a harsh and forbidding place to be confined. But, as a result of our successful litigation, mentally ill prisoners will no longer be denied the treatment they need to survive.

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