March 11, 2013
The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania
a federal lawsuit today challenging the unconstitutional treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness in solitary confinement, known as Restricted Housing Units, in state correctional institutions.
The network, designated under federal law to protect the rights of people with disabilities, said the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections confines about 800 men and women with mental illnesses in horrific conditions with inadequate mental health treatment. The lawsuit alleges that the department is aware that such confinement exacerbates their mental illness, but does not adequately take their mental health into account before disciplining them by placing them in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. The lawsuit alleges the state's mistreatment of these prisoners, who make up about 33 percent of the total RHU population, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Prisoners in RHUs are locked down at least 23 hours a day in cells as small as 80 square feet, and have only the most minimal contact with other human beings. They receive mental health counseling through their food slot or the crack between the side of their cell door and frame. Despite knowing the psychological pain that such isolation inflicts on prisoners with mental illness, the state fails to provide them with adequate mental health services.
Robert W. Meek
, attorney for DRN, said, "This is a vile and inhumane way to treat people with mental illness. As one judge put it, solitary confinement for a person with mental illness is like an airless room for an asthmatic.
should give these prisoners beds in units designed to help people with mental illness, not devastate them."
DRN is represented in this lawsuit by its own legal staff;
Covington & Burling LLP
Kairys, Rudovsky, Feinberg, and Messing LLP
Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project
; and the
American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania
. The case,
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania v. Wetzel
, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of
More information, including a copy of the complaint, can be found at:
Robert W. Meek
, Disability Rights Network of
, (215) 238-8070 ext. 206
David L. Kornblau
, Covington & Burling, (212) 841-1084
, ACLU of
, (215) 592-1513 ext.122
SOURCE Covington & Burling