Montana State Prison is located in the Deer Lodge valley approximately 3.5 miles west of the town of Deer Lodge.
According to the ACLU under Criminal Law Reform, The ACLU of Montana, on behalf of its client Disability Rights Montana, is challenging the treatment of prisoners with mental illness at Montana State Prison and the Montana State Hospital. A year-long investigation at those institutions revealed a pattern at Montana State Prison of withholding medication, misdiagnosing prisoners with a long history of mental illness, and punishing them for behavior caused by their mental illness. Prisoners with mental illness are routinely subjected to months or years of solitary confinement and “behavior modification plans” that deprive them of clothing, working toilets, bedding and proper food. This serves only to worsen their illness and cause needless suffering.
In addition, people sentenced “Guilty But Mentally Ill,” and sent to the Montana State Hospital for treatment are routinely transferred to Montana State Prison because Montana State Hospital staff does not want to treat problem patients or they need beds for other patients. These very ill patients have no real opportunity to challenge these transfers from a hospital setting to the prison where mental health care is virtually nonexistent and they are punished for their mental illness.
“This is about a prison mental health system that is making prisoners sicker,” said Anna Conley, ACLU of Montana staff attorney. “What is happening at the Montana State Prison and the Montana State Hospital is not only illegal; it goes against common sense. We should be providing mental health care that helps these prisoners rather than treating them in ways that exacerbate their condition.”
Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, executive director of Disability Rights Montana had this to say “In our investigation of the prison and its practices, we have uncovered shocking and inhumane treatment of people who are mentally ill.”
Her organization conducted a 16-month investigation into the two agencies, interviewing at least 50 prisoners from the Montana State Prison and looking through thousands of documents.
Constitutional violations and poor mental health practices at Montana State Prison include:
A troubling pattern of the prison psychiatrist meeting for just minutes with prisoners with mental illness before finding that they are “faking it,” in spite of significant histories of mental illness;
Refusing to provide prisoners with necessary psychiatric medications;
Routine imposition of solitary confinement and/or “behavior modification plans” depriving prisoners of clothing, bedding, human contact, a working toilet and proper food as punishment for behaviors caused by mental illness;
“Wellness checks” in solitary confinement that consist of a weekly knock at the cell door where any conversation can be overheard by guards and other prisoners;
Inadequate mental health staff and training; and
Providing just 12 mental health beds in a prison with more than 275 prisoners with mental illness.
“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 is assisting the ACLU of Montana. “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 and the ACLU of Montana have asked both the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Health and Human Services to correct these serious problems.
“We want to work with these agencies, but if the issues cannot be resolved, we will have to take legal action,” Conley said.
Disability Rights Montana sued seven top officials with both the state Departments of Corrections and Health and Human Services
Letter to DOC and DPHHS
A response from Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard:
“We take these allegations very seriously,” said Montana State Prison Warden Leroy Kirkegard about the ACLU letter, but said he disagrees with how some of the problems are portrayed.
He said there are questions about whether some of the people mentioned in the ACLU letter actually have mental illnesses. Also, he said the letter makes it seem as if prisoners are placed in solitary confinement because of a mental illness, and that’s just not the case.
“They’re a danger to themselves, they’re a danger to other inmates,” he said. “It reaches a point where we get them their medication, the mental health staff see them on a regular basis, and nothing seems to help.”
“No agency ever wants to go to court,” he said.
Franks-Ongoy said they have not heard any response to the suit from the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
You may listen to a report here by DAN BOYCE at Montana Public Radio
So, let me break this down:
The Warden of Montana State Prison states that “No agency ever wants to go to court”, yet there are dozens of lawsuits against this prison and Montana Department of Corrections in the past. There are years of evidence with documentation that shows the same ongoing problems. Courts, judgments, even the state elected officials do not seem to deter them. They operate the way they want to operate. They continue to request for budget increases to hold more inmates, not for making changes to the system, but for making money off the “prison hotels.”
The audacity for the Warden to blatantly state “there are questions about whether some of the people mentioned in the ACLU letter actually have mental illnesses” after a 16-month investigation into the two agencies, interviewing at least 50 prisoners from the Montana State Prison and looking through thousands of documents says otherwise. When clearly this was an issue that was addressed in this investigation citing “A troubling pattern of the prison psychiatrist meeting for just minutes with prisoners with mental illness before finding that they are “faking it,” in spite of significant histories of mental illness.”
I have shown you case after case throughout this website of those that have not received their medicines. They make them go cold turkey by suddenly not administering them to the inmates. A practice that is dangerous not only for mental reasons but for health reasons. This is a regular ongoing practice.
It seems the Warden and Montana Department of Corrections are still not accepting the facts about this lawsuit. This is their method of operation when it comes to making changes. Say a lot of pretty, feel good words but never follow through. At least he did state they don’t really believe that some actually do have mental illnesses. In other words, they are better than the medical history that says otherwise. They are diagnosing that these mentally ill people are faking it. Wow….
As far as Montana Department of Health and Human Services, well just look at the ongoing crisis at the Montana Developmental Center. I don’t trust them to do anything different either. You can dig through the archives on here and find out that to be true.