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Letter re Solitary Conditions at Huron County MI Corr. Facility ACLU 2014

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2966 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, lv\1 48201-3035
Phone 313.578.6800
Fox 313.578.6811

teaislalive Office


P. 0. Box 18022
Lansing, Ml 48901-8022
Phone 517.372.8503
Fax 517.372.5121

89 Ionia 1'-lW, Suite 300
Grcmd Rapids, Ml 49503
Phone 616.301.0930
Fax 616.456.1450
Email aclu@aclumich.Ng


July 29, 2014
Daniel H. Heyns, Director
Michigan Department of Corrections
Grandview Plaza
P.O. Box 30003
Lansing, MI 48909
hevnsd((/)michi gan. gov
Millicent Warren, Warden
Women's Huron Valley Conectional Facility
3201 Bemis Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
warrenm4@michigan. gov


Medically Dangerous, Inhumane, and Unconstitutional Conditions for Mentally Ill
Inmates in Administrative Segregation at Women's Huron Valley Correctional

Dear Director Heyns and Warden Wanen:
We represent civil rights organizations whose missions include protecting the rights of
prisoners. We write to request an investigation into the treatment of mentally ill prisoners at
Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility, and we urge you to take immediate action to
ensure that such inmates are not deprived of water or food, and are free from the use of excessive

Reports of Water Deprivation, Food Deprivation,
Unsanitary Conditions, Neglect, and Use of Excessive Force
The American Civil Libe1iies Union of Michigan, in cooperation with other concerned
civil rights advocates, has been examining the treatment of mentally ill prisoners at Huron Valley
for several months after receiving numerous complaints. According to reports we have received
±l:om multiple individuals who have witnessed these events first-hand, mentally ill inmates at
Huron Valley are being treated so inhumanely that we believe many corrections experts would
characterize their experience as a form oftorture. Witnesses have reported seeing mentally ill
prisoners denied water and food, "hog tied" naked for many hours, left to stand, sit, or lie naked
in their own feces and urine, denied showers for days, and tasered. If true, the repmis we have
received describe dangerous prison conditions that constitute a grave threat to the wellbeing of
im11ates and therefore demand your immediate attention.

l. Moss,


Executive Director



I Generol



We have received very disturbing reports of water deprivation. In administrative
segregation cells housing mentally ill inmates, the water has been shut off and guards have failed
to provide sut11cient drinking water to the inmates in those cells for hours and possibly even days.
We have been told that imnates requested water from guards and did not receive it. This is
inhumane and medically dangerous, as water deprivation can lead to dehydration and in extreme
cases death.
We are also very concerned about demeaning treatment of inmates who are sufTering
from serious mental illness. One im11ate, who pleaded with a guard to help a mentally ill prisoner
who was crying naked on the floor and unable to move-because her feet were cufTed to her
hands behind her back-was told that her fellow prisoner would have to stay like that for two
hours or more because she had not learned how to "behave." The guard was referring to a young
woman with serious mental illness who is unable to control her behavior unless her mental
illness is properly treated.
At least one mentally ill inmate who experienced these abuses, specif1cally water and
food deprivation and poor sanitation, was transferred to an outside hospital last month after she
was found non-responsive in her cell. Through various sources we understand that she has since
been pronounced brain dead.
This tragic incident is not unprecedented. In 2006, Timothy Souders, a 21-year-old
mentally ill man in MDOC custody, died at Southern Michigan Correctional Facility as a result
of neglect and tmiure-including use of restraints, water deprivation, and poor sanitation-that
are frightening similar to conditions reportedly being experienced by mentally ill inmates at
Huron Valley. 1
Denying inmates life-sustaining necessities such as water, food, and basic sanitation is
barbaric and unconstitutional. The use of inhumane physical restraints and tasers as a method of
punishing the mentally ill is likewise unconstitutional. These practices must stop before more
lives are put at risk.

Use of Solitary Confinement Inappropriate for Mentally Ill Inmates
According to your own repmi, MDOC routinely imposes administrative segregation on
inmates with serious mental illness (SMI) or developmental disorders (DD). In 2012-13 a daily
average of 44 prisoners with SMI or DD were held in administrative segregation. 2 This practice
has been repeatedly held to violate the Eighth Amendment by courts across the nation, and is
condemned by many professional and humanitarian organizations. For such prisoners, "placing
them in [segregation] is the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to
breathe." 3 The Mental Health Association of Michigan states the use of administrative

Hadix v. Caruso, 461 F. Supp. 2d 574, 577-80 (W.O. Mich. 2006); see also Elizabeth Alexander, Prison Health
Care, Political Choice, and the Accidental Death Penalty, II U. Pa. J. Const. L. I (2009).

Michigan Depmiment of CmTections, Repmi to the Legislature, Administrative Segregation Report (20 14 ), at
http://www 1-14 - Section cp 5 448' I' 7 .pel L


Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1265 (N.D. Cal. 1995); see also Jones 'EI v. Berge, 164 F. Supp. 2d I 096
(W.O. Wis. 2001); Austin v. Wilkinson, No. 4:01-cv-00071 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 21, 2001), at


segregation for people with mental illnesses "punishes people for having a brain disorder, and
then exacerbates their conditions by creating an environment that is totally inconsistent with
effective therapy.'' 4 The American Bar Association's Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners
calls for ending the use of solitary confinement of the mentally ill and for closely monitoring the
mental health of those in solitary. 5 The United Nations has called for a ban on the use of solitary
confinement, especially for the mentally ill. 6
The incidents reported to us confirm what mental health and correctional expe1is already
know: placing mentally ill prisoners in isolation only exacerbates their symptoms. Responding to
their symptoms by denying them water, food, sanitation, and subjecting them to physical
punishment is both ineffective and illegal.

Conditions at Huron Valley Violate the Eighth Amendment's
Protections Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment
If the reports we have received are true, the mistreatment and neglect of mentally ill
inmates at Huron Valley raises grave Eighth Amendment concerns. The Eighth Amendment
prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments" on those convicted of crimes. 7
Individual instances of abuse in prison can arise to an Eighth Amendment violation, and "some
conditions of confinement may establish an Eighth Amendment violation 'in combination' when
each would not do so alone ... when they have a mutually enforcing effect that produces the
deprivation of a single, identifiable human need .... " 8
The Sixth Circuit has held that the denial of adequate food, clothing, medical care, and
reasonable safety are unconstitutional conditions of confinement violative of the Eighth
Amendment. 9 Unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain also amount to cruel and unusual
. 11ment. 10
pums 1-00 17.pdf; Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F. Supp. 1282, 132021 (E.D. Cal. 1995); Casey v. Lewis, 834 F. Supp. 1477, 1549-50 (D. Ariz. 1993); Langley v. Coughlin, 715 F. Supp.
522, 540 (S.D.N.Y. 1988).

Mental Health Association in Michigan, An Important Message on Solitary Confinement of Michigan Prisoners
with Mental Disorders (20 I2), at I 2/09/an-important-message-on-solitarv-con llnementof-michi gan-prisoners-wit IHnen ta 1-cl isorders/.


See Iications/crimina I . justice section arc hi ve/crim justmstanclarc!s
So/it my COJ?flnement should be banned in most cases, UN expert sc~ys, at'7News!D=40097ti.U9FLJ I Kf-So.



Wilson v. Seiter, 50 I U.S. 294, 296-97 (I 99 I).


/d. at 304 (internal citation omitted).


Barker v. Goodrich, 649 F.3cl428, 434 (6th Cir. 20 I I).



In Barker v. Goodrich, 11 the Sixth Circuit found that the Eighth Amendment was violated
where an inmate "was handcuffed behind his back for twelve hours, during which time he missed
a meal and was unable to sit or lie down without pain, use the restroom, or obtain water from the
fountain." 12 The accounts of various inmates at Huron Valley detail similar, if not more
disturbing, conditions for mentally ill inmates in administrative segregation.
With respect to the use of force, it is not always unconstitutional to use force against an
inmate to enforce an order when the inmate's compliance is necessary to avoid immediate risk of
injury to the inmate or another individual. However, com1s have held that"[ e]ven when a
prisoner's conduct warrants some form of response, evolving norms of decency require prison
o±Ticials to use techniques and procedures that are both humane and restrained." 13
With respect to seriously mentally ill inmates, who may be incapable of understanding or
complying with an order, cm.nis have held that the use of force against them, even force that may
be permissible against a mentally competent individual, "crosses the line separating necessary
force from brutality." 14 Simply put, "if the DOC fails to account for an inmate's decompensation,
with the result that he is gassed when he cannot control his actions due to mental illness, then the
force no longer has a necessary penological purpose and becomes brutality." 15
Conclusion and Request for Action
We hope you will treat this situation very seriously, as it appears that the lives of women
at Huron Valley who suffer from mental illness are at risk. We also wish to note that women who
are inmates were brave enough to come forward and repmi these abuses to us despite their fear
ofretaliation for sharing what they witnessed with outside organizations. As you know, any
retaliation against im11ates for reporting abuse or misconduct is illegal and must not be tolerated.
Based on the grave situation at Huron Valley, we ask that you take immediate action with
regard to the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates. Specifically, you must end the deprivation of
life sustaining necessities such as water, food, and basic sanitation; the unwananted or excessive
use of force against inmates whose mental illness impairs their ability to understand and comply
with prison rules and orders; and the use of solitary confinement for all inmates with serious
mental illness or developmental disabilities. The use of water restrictions should be eliminated; if
it is necessary to turn off the water in a prisoner's cell, that prisoner should receive drinking
water whenever she seeks it-and her water input should be carefully monitored, including by
medical personnel. More generally, many conectional systems have-often after litigationimplemented safeguards to evaluate prisoners under consideration for segregated confinement,
and provide alternatives for those who have serious mental illness or developmental


649 F.3d 428 (6th Cir. 2011).


!d. at 434.


Slakan v. Porter, 737 F.2d 368, 372 (4th Cir. 1984).


Thomas v. McNeil, 3:04-CV-917-J-32JRK, 2009 WL 64616 at *23 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 9, 2009), afj"'d, 614 F.3d 1288
(11th Cir. 20 I 0); see also Stewart v. Stalder, No. 05-cv-0416-P, 2007 WL 184892, at *4 (Jan. 19, 2007).

Thomas, supra, at *23.


disabilities. 16 We would like to work with you to develop the required protocols for Michigan,
and ask that you contact Sofia Nelson at the ACLU to discuss that possibility. We also urge you
to investigate the incidents and conditions described in this letter and make your findings and
conclusions publicly available.

Kimberly Thomas
Michigan Clinical Law Program
University of Michigan Law School
Margo Schlanger
University of Michigan Law School
(affiliation for identification only)
Carol Jacobsen
Michigan Women's Justice & Clemency Project
Richard Rienstra
Citizens for Prison Reform


Rick Snyder, Governor, State ofMichigan
Mark Cody, Legal Director, Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service


See Austin v. Wilkinson, No. 4:01 CV071 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 5, 2002), at 1-000 1.pdf; Peoples 1·. Fisdh'!". No. I: I 1-cv-02694-SAS
(S.D.N. Y. Feb. 19. 20 14). at -NY -0062-001 O.pclf.