Supermax Prison Officials Move To Address Mental Health After Lawsuit
By John Ingold Denver Post November 26, 2012
Officials at the highest-security federal prison in America have taken steps to address mental- health issues among the prison's inmates, following a lawsuit that accuses the government of indifference.
The changes at the administrative maximum prison in Florence, known as Supermax, started last summer, shortly after attorneys filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court on behalf of several inmates who say their mental illnesses are not being treated at the prison.
Among the allegations inthe lawsuit are claims that prison officials transfer inmates they know to be mentally ill to Supermax, in violation of prison policies, then stop treating the inmates' illnesses - including taking them off medication. At least six Supermax inmates have killed themselves inside the prison, according to the suit, and many others have attempted suicide or mutilated themselves.
After the lawsuit was filed in June, Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels wrote a memo to all federal inmates encouraging suicidal inmates to seek help from prison psychologists. The memo is among a number of documents filed in the lawsuit Wednesday.
"If you are unable to think of solutions other than suicide," Samuels wrote to inmates July 20, "it is not because solutions do not exist; it is because you are currently unable to see them. Do not lose hope."
Denver attorney Edwin Aro, who is representing the Supermax inmates in the lawsuit, said a video message from Samuels about prison mental-health services also started being played to Supermax inmates in August. And Aro said he has also learned Supermax is looking to add to its mental-health staff - which consisted of two people for 490 inmates, Samuels said in testimony in June before Congress.
Regardless of the changes, prison officials say they have not mistreated mentally ill inmates at Supermax and have asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit.
In a motion filed in October, government attorneys say the lawsuit does not provide enough information to show that prison officials intentionally deprived inmates of mental-health treatment. The motion also says that the named defendants - mostly high-ranking Bureau of Prisons officials - would have had no knowledge of the treatment of individual inmates.
"Most glaringly, there are no facts alleged showing the requisite subjective intent," the motion states.
In the inmates' response, Aro and other attorneys said they have more than met the burden to move the case forward.
"If this complaint... were found insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss," the attorney's reply brief states, "then the courthouse door will be as impenetrable to prison inmates as the cell doors that secure them."
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch has not indicated when he will rule on the motion to dismiss the case.
Supermax prison officials move to address mental health after lawsuit - The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_22064773/supermax-prison-officials-move-address-mental-health-after#ixzz2DR7fb0nd