Federal Court to Hear Challenges to Deficient Health Care in Michigan Prisons After Prisoner Dies in Restraints

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
October 13, 2006 12:00 am

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KALAMAZOO, MI- At a hearing tomorrow before U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Enslen, the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project and two Ann Arbor civil rights attorneys will argue that some of the state’s oldest and largest prisons do not meet constitutional standards for medical and mental health care, and that Patricia Caruso, Director of the Department of Corrections, should be held in contempt for the Defendants’ non-compliance with court orders to improve medical services.

The ACLU is seeking to expand the case of Hadix v. Caruso against several prisons in Jackson, Michigan to include mental health care. Recently a court-appointed monitor of medical services in the prison system, Robert Cohen, M.D., reported his findings in the August 2006 death of a 21-year-old man who had a long history of mental illness. Cohen reported that the prisoner died shortly after being released following four days in full restraints, and no physician knew that he was actively psychotic. No psychiatrist was consulted at any point, according to Cohen.

Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU National Prison Project said, “It is critical to explore why and how this man’s sentence became a death sentence.”

“Mental health care in these prisons must be improved significantly to prevent any more avoidable deaths,” added Michael Barnhart, a longtime civil rights attorney.

In tomorrow’s arguments, the ACLU and their co-counsel will argue that prison officials should not be allowed to use in-cell mechanical restraints outside of medical settings; that they must require medical and psychiatric evaluations of restrained prisoners, and they must develop protocols for the use of restraints. Officials must assure that prisoners have access to necessary mental health staff and more closely monitor the needs of prisoners in segregation with mental illnesses.

ACLU attorneys will also address concerns about medical services at several Jackson prisons. They will argue that prison officials should be held in contempt for their non-compliance with several of the court’s previous requirements to improve medical services. These orders have not been followed and further orders protecting prisoners’ lives and health are necessary.

According to Patricia Streeter, also a longtime civil rights lawyer, “Until the Department of Corrections addresses these deficiencies, prisoners in Jackson will continue to be at risk of unnecessary suffering and death.”

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