The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court decision that dismissed a case challenging the unconstitutional treatment of incarcerated individuals with mental illness at the Montana State Prison. The lawsuit—filed in 2015 by Disability Rights Montana, the ACLU of Montana, and Foley & Lardner LLP—was remanded for further proceedings and reassigned to a different district court judge.
The lawsuit asserts that “the Montana Department of Corrections is engaging in ongoing violations of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by knowingly administering policies and practices that exacerbate the mental health of people incarcerated in the Montana State Prison.” The plaintiffs argue that the Montana Department of Corrections fails to provide constitutionally guaranteed mental health treatment which has led to deteriorating mental health, extreme self-harm, and suicide. According to the case, about 20 percent of the prison’s population are individuals with mental illness. The advocates criticize Montana State Prison for its alleged failure to properly diagnose people’s mental illnesses, lack of standards to determine if a punishment will be harmful to a person’s mental health, failure to provide proper medication and treatment to those with serious mental illness, lack of therapy for mental illness—other than weekly rounds by mental health technicians—and reliance on Behavior Management Plans.
The decision to remand the case comes shortly after Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed a new law limiting the use of restrictive housing for those with mental illness and increasing the amount of treatment available for these individuals.
Keywords: mentally ill, serious mental illness, mental illness, SMI, ACLU, Disability Rights Montana, Governor Bullock, Montana State Prison