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Rikers Island Diapered Mentally Ill in Segregation

Prison officials in New York City have been charged in a lawsuit filed upon behalf of four mentally ill prisoners with depriving those prisoners of their basic human rights and placing them in diapers while in isolated segregation.

The prisoners, who were identified by their first names only, say they were targeted for revenge for an October 2005 clash in the mental health observation of the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island. In that incident, a dozen prisoners and five guards were injured in a melee. One guard was slashed on the cheek with the sharpened face of a wristwatch.
Two guards and one prisoner are pending charges that range from assault to lying about the incident.

Many of the prisoners under observation and treatment owed "Bing Time," or punitive segregation, but were not placed in confinement because it would decompensate their mental health condition. After the October 5 incident, City prison officials made a decision to transfer prisoners who owed Bing Time to "no harm housing" (NHH).

With the assistance of its medical contractor Prison Health Services, the prisoners were labeled as "malingers" and "fakers." During October 2005, prison officials transferred, and in some cases, forcibly dragged approximately fourteen prisoners to NHH because prison officials had labeled them as faking mental illness to avoid Bing Time.

Upon placement in NHH, the prisoners were stripped naked and compelled to wear diapers. On multiple occasions, they were forced to exit their cell for strip searches in view of female guards and other fully dressed prisoners, who yelled: "Diaper babies!"

The mentally ill in NHH were deprived of their basic human rights. Not only were they abruptly cut off of the psychotropic medications, but they were deprived all forms of mental health treatment, including counseling. Each of the four prisoners in the complaint had a well documented history of mental illness, most back into early childhood that include numerous suicide attempts and hospitalizations.

While on NHH, the prisoners were denied all reading materials, including their legal papers and religious books. Even paper and pen was a prohibited item, which deprived them of communication with their family and lawyers. Exercise and showers were not regularly provided, and the cell windows were sealed shut.

Around Christmas 2005, prison officials presented the prisoners with a choice. They could remain in NHH under those onerous conditions, or they could agree to not harm themselves and stop asking for psychotropic medications and visits with mental health professionals. The prisoners agreed. That, however, cannot stop mental illness. At least one of them attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized a few months later. So much for prison officials' threat to put them "back into pampers" if they misbehaved.

PLN will report future developments on this story. See: Samuel E. v. The City of New York, N.Y. Supreme Court, County of Bronx, Index No: 16423-07.

Additional source: New York Daily News

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Related legal case

Samuel E. v. The City of New York