ACLU Requests Transfer of Mentally-Ill Prisoners from Supermax

August 10, 2001 12:00 am

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MADISON, WI – – The American Civil Liberties Union in coalition with other prisoner advocacy groups today asked a federal court to order the immediate transfer of six seriously mentally ill prisoners from Wisconsin’s Supermax Correctional Institution to an inpatient psychiatric facility. The ACLU is also asking the court for an order allowing an independent psychiatric assessment of all prisoners housed at the Supermax Correctional Institution (SMCI).

“”Courts have previously recognized that housing the seriously mentally ill in this type of environment amounts to torture,”” said Attorney David Fathi, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Psychiatric expert Dr. Terry Kupers conducted in-depth interviews of 20 prisoners and reviewed each prisoner’s individual file last July when he toured SMCI. In addition to concluding that six of the prisoners identified should be transferred out of SMCI “”on an urgent basis,”” he also recommended that all other prisoners should “”undergo rigorous psychiatric examination and psychological assessment”” soon thereafter.

“”Supermax facilities are unacceptable to any person,”” said Attorney Ed Garvey, lead counsel for the team of lawyers representing the class of prisoners housed at SMCI. “”Such facilities should be strictly off-limits for the mentally ill.””

Although a private medical contractor, Prison Health Services, currently provides medical treatment at SMCI, the ACLU is asking that psychiatric screening of all prisoners be performed by psychiatrists not employed by either the Department of Corrections or Prison Health Services, because they believe that the mental health staff have thus far failed to prevent seriously mentally ill prisoners from being housed at SMCI.

This lawsuit, Jones’El et al. v. Litscher et al., is before Judge Barbara Crabb in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison. The defendants are Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections Secretary, Jon Litscher, and SMCI Warden, Gerald Berge.

The prisoners are represented by a team of lawyers led by Attorney Ed Garvey, of Madison. The other attorneys are Pamela McGilivray, also of Garvey & Stoddard in Madison; Howard Eisenberg, Dean of Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee; David Fathi, Staff Attorney with the National Prison Project of the ACLU Foundation in Washington, D.C.; Attorney Micabil Diaz, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation in Milwaukee, and Attorney Robin Shellow of the Shellow Group in Milwaukee.

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