Prison agency planning to centralize mentally ill
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Department of Correction officials said Wednesday they hope to move all of the prison system’s seriously mentally ill inmates to one central location designed for their care by the first of next year.
The department’s top financial and mental health officials said during a federal court hearing that they plan to overhaul an unused, 22-bed unit at the prison complex in Pendleton into a new treatment center for the seriously mentally ill.
The hearing was held as an update on the prison agency’s progress in complying with a court order mandating it improve its treatment of its estimated 5,000 mentally ill prisoners.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled Dec. 31 that by simply locking mentally ill prisoners up in their cells without adequate treatment, the department was violating the inmates’ constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana had complained that the plans the agency had discussed since Pratt’s ruling were ambitious but vague. The ACLU represented the state Protection and Advocacy Services Commission in the class action lawsuit that was filed in 2008. The commission advocates for the rights of the disabled.
Craig Hanks, the department’s executive director for mental health, said officials plan to renovate a cell unit at the prison about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis to house about 200 of the system’s most seriously mentally ill offenders. Less seriously ill inmates would continue to be housed at prisons in New Castle and Westville. The change would also require the agency to hire more mental health specialists, officials said.
“This is a really ambitious plan and it looks like we’re making progress,” ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said after the 90-minute hearing. “The idea that by Jan. 1 we would be able to get prisoners moved in is great.”
Agency officials said the project would have to be included in a new medical services contract it expects to sign later this year. Department of Correction Chief Financial Officer Andrew Pritchard said that contract would include mental health services, and he estimated the contract would cost the state about $100 million per year.
Pritchard said officials don’t yet have a firm estimate on how much converting the unit at Pendleton and hiring more staff will cost, and the funding still must be approved by at least three state agencies and the Legislature.
Pratt ordered officials to report their progress again in 90 days. She also said she would visit the unit where the mental health center would be sometime this summer.