Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$145,000 Settlement in Iowa Prisoner’s Self-Mutilation Mental Health Claim

by David M. Reutter

The Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) paid $144,523.20 to settle a civil rights action that claimed prison officials sat idly watching a mentally ill prisoner physically maim herself.

In 1976 at the age of 13, Shane Elizabeth Eggen was placed in state custody by her parents, who could not control her “tumultuous, aberrant behavior.” Between then and 1997, Eggen was in and out of mental health facilities. After stabbing a police officer in 1997 at her special needs facility, she was sent to prison.

A month after her release from prison August 2000, Eggen was back in jail for stabbing another man and setting her apartment on fire in a suicide attempt, which was her second such known attempt. While in the Winneshiek County Jail, “demons” inside Eggens’ head quoted a Bible passage, “If thy eye offends thee, pluck it out.” As a result, she gouged out her right eye.
After receiving a prison sentence, Eggen was sent to the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in April 2001. Between then and October 2003, she was in and out of the “hole” for her behavior, which included assaults on other prisoners and staff.

At the heart of the civil rights complaint filed on her behalf was self-destructive behavior that caused her physical injuries while she was in solitary confinement. On December 21, 2002, Eggen mutilated her left eye, leaving her totally blind. In June 2003, she pulled out four teeth and chewed off one of her fingers. Finally, in October 2003, Eggen spent weeks digging at her cheeks, filling the cavity she created with feces and vaginal secretions.

The complaint charged prison officials did nothing to protect Eggen from her “mad self” other than to place her in isolation, exacerbating her psychiatric condition. Despite their knowledge of her history, the defendants “watched” Eggen “mutilate herself on multiple occasions and failed to stop it, or … provide prompt medical attention.”

Eggen finished her prison sentence in 2005, and she was taken to the state Mental Health Institute, where she remains. Her tragedy was used in Crazy in America, a nationally promoted book that illustrates how prisons are misused as psychiatric facilities.

To avoid “the potential for a very large damage award,” IDOC settled with Eggen’s guardian in May 2009. The settlement provides $50,000 in a trust for Eggen, $70,000 to attorney Patrick Ingram, and $21,532 to the Constitutional Litigation Law firm in Detroit for attorney fees.

See: Jewell v. Iowa Department of Corrections, USDC, S.D. Iowa, Case No: 4:04-CV-710.

Additional sources: Des Moines Register;

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Jewell v. Iowa Department of Corrections