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Illinois DOC Permanently Enjoined From Neglecting Prisoners’ Mental Health

by Derek Gilna

On October 30, 2018, a federal judge entered a permanent injunction that enjoined the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) from violating the Eighth Amendment and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to mental health care.

In issuing the injunction, the district court found the IDOC had failed to deliver adequate mental health services to state prisoners. 

The court had previously certified the case as a class-action under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with a class comprised of all prisoners who “are identified or should have been identified by the IDOC’s mental health professionals as in need of mental health treatment as defined in the current litigation.”

As noted by the district court, “the overwhelming evidence establishes that at the time of the preliminary injunction hearing, the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the Plaintiffs’ medical needs. Most notably, the evidence showed that there were systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing that effectively denied the Plaintiffs access to adequate medical care.”

Since the entry of that preliminary order, “Defendants have implemented policies and procedures that have created improvements in the overall delivery of mental health services,” the court wrote. “However, the record still shows there are systemic and gross deficiencies in the staffing of mental health providers....” 

A court-appointed medical expert who reviewed the IDOC’s mental health treatment records reported “the Department is noncompliant with 18 of 25 [Settlement Agreement terms] and substantially compliant in only 3 [terms] (orientations, housing assignments and training) [and] [a]s is explained more fully in the body of the report, these noncompliance ratings are primarily due to inadequate staffing.”  Lack of adequate staffing meant the IDOC was unable to provide the individualized care that each mentally ill prisoner required.

“We remain frustrated that despite the IDOC’s promises such legal action was necessary,” said Harold Hirschman, one of the attorneys representing the class members. “The IDOC knew what the Constitution required and simply ignored its obligations to these sick prisoners who have nowhere to go for care. A civilized society cares for the helpless. The IDOC has shirked this responsibility year after year. They should be ashamed.” 

In its order granting the permanent injunction, the district court concluded that the IDOC had “been deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of the Plaintiffs in medication management, mental health treatment in segregation, mental health treatment on crisis watch, mental health evaluations, and mental health treatment plans within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.... Plaintiffs have suffered or will suffer irreparable injury if a permanent injunction is not issued.” 

The IDOC was given two weeks in which to offer solutions to the problems identified during the litigation, and the court retained jurisdiction over the case. On December 20, 2018, the court awarded the second half of $1.9 million in attorney fees. The IDOC has since appealed the permanent injunction and fee award. See: Rasho v. Walker, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:07-cv-01298-MMM. 


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Related legal case

Rasho v. Walker