Judge: Indiana not improving mental health services for prisoners

June 26, 2013

Courtesy of ACLU
File: Ken Falk is the head of Indiana's ACLU.

A federal judge in Indianapolis wants to know why a court order from six months ago is being ignored.

In an order issued last December, U.S. District Court Judge Tonya Walton found the Indiana Department of Corrections’ treatment for 6,000 mentally ill inmates was inadequate and ordered more to be done.

But so far, that hasn’t happened.

A status hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Indianapolis aims to learn more.

Kenneth Falk, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, says his group filed the original complaint against the IDOC in 2009.

“This lawsuit was filed some time ago,” Falk told WBEZ on Tuesday. “It was based on the recognition and continued complaints from prisoners about what we viewed as serious neglect of their mental health needs while being in segregated environments that make their mental health needs even greater and their mental illnesses even worse,” Falk told WBEZ on Tuesday.

The ACLU says in court documents that the plans the prison agency has filed have been impressive, but little has been done to make the improvements happen.

Joshua Sprunger works with Indiana’s mental ill prison population. He thinks Indiana has yet to act because of money issues.

“We have a system in Indiana that was designed for public safety, not for treatment and support for those living with serious mental illness,” Sprunger said. “The Indiana Department has been working on but has a long way to go in terms of the treatment and support that they can provide to folks inside. They are constrained by resources so we have been advocating with our state legislature and governor's administration to make sure the Department of Corrections has what it needs to carry that out.”

Moreover, Sprunger said, is that many mentally ill inmates shouldn’t be in jail or prison in the first place.

“We really need to get some of these folks into treatment rather than into incarceration in the first place and that’s the key,” Sprunger said.

Sprunger says his group is not a party to the lawsuit but does work with both the ACLU and IDOC.

“Our position is that state agencies need to be more creative, more collaborative and need to be fully-funded to develop better systems,” Sprunger said. “There are champions in the Indiana Department of Corrections that know where kind of where things need to be headed but they need to be empowered to make those decisions.”

Follow WBEZ’s Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.