Florida Prison Lawyer for Neglect of Mental Health Care

Mental health care of prisoners is governed by the same constitutional standard of deliberate indifference as is medical care. A “severe” mental illness is one “that has caused significant disruption in an inmate’s everyday life and which prevents his functioning in the general population without disturbing or endangering others or himself.”32

Elements of an Adequate Mental Health Care System for Inmates

The Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials provide a system of ready access to adequate mental health care. First, there must be a systematic program for screening and evaluating inmates in order to identify those who require mental health treatment. Second, treatment must entail more than segregation and solitary confinement of the inmate patients. Third, treatment requires the participation of trained mental health professionals, who must be employed in sufficient numbers to identify and treat in an individualized manner those treatable inmates suffering from serious mental disorders. Fourth, accurate, complete, and confidential records of the mental health treatment process must be maintained. Fifth, prescription and administration of behavior-altering medications in dangerous amounts, by dangerous methods, or without appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation, is an unacceptable method of treatment. Sixth, a basic program for the identification, treatment and supervision of inmates with suicidal tendencies is a necessary component of any mental health treatment program.

Some examples of actionable harm from inadequate mental health care include:

  • Lack of adequate mental health screening on intake.34
  • Failure to follow up on prisoners with known or suspected mental health disorders.35
  • Failure to provide adequate numbers of qualified mental health staff.36
  • Housing mentally ill prisoners in segregation or “supermax” units.37
  • Failure to transfer seriously mentally ill prisoners to more appropriate facilities.38
  • Improper use of restraints.39
  • Excessive use of force against mentally ill prisoners.40
  • Lack of training of custody staff in mental health issues.41
  • Barnes v. Government of Virgin Islands, 415 F.Supp. 1218, 1235 (D.V.I. 1976).
  • Tillery v. Owens, 719 F.Supp. 1256, 1286 (W.D. Pa. 1989), aff’d, 907 F.2d 418 (3rd Cir. 1990).
  • Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F.Supp. 1265, 1339 (S.D. Tex. 1980) (citations omitted), aff’d in part and rev’d in part on other grounds, 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir.), amended in part and vacated in part, 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982); accord Balla v. Idaho State Bd. of Corrections, 595 F.Supp. 1558, 1577 (D. Idaho 1984); Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F.Supp. 1282, 1298 n.10 (E.D. Cal. 1995). 34 Woodward v. Correctional Medical Servs., 368 F.3d 917 (7th Cir. 2004); Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d 1175, 1189 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1106 (2003); Inmates of Occoquan v. Barry, 717 F.Supp. 854, 868 (D.D.C. 1989); Inmates of the Allegheny County Jail v. Pierce, 487 F.Supp. 638, 642, 644 (W.D. Pa. 1980).
  • Woodward v. Correctional Medical Servs., 368 F.3d 917 (7th Cir. 2004) (failure to respond to signs that prisoner was suicidal); De’Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630 (4th Cir. 2003) (failure to treat prisoner’s compulsion to self-mutilate); Olsen v. Bloomberg, 339 F.3d 730 (8th Cir. 2003) (failure to take reasonable steps to prevent prisoner suicide); Cavalieri v. Shepard, 321 F.3d 616, 621-22 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1003 (2003) (failure to respond to warnings that prisoner was suicidal); Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d 693 (6th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 817(2002); Sanville v. McCaughtrey, 266 F.3d 724, 738 (7 Cir. 2001); Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1036 (11th Cir. 1989); Arnold v. Lewis, 803 F.Supp. 246, 257-58 (D. Ariz. 1992).
  • Waldrop v. Evans, 871 F.2d 1030, 1036 (11th Cir. 1989) (non-psychiatrist was not qualified to evaluate significance of prisoner’s suicidal gesture); Cabrales v. County of Los Angeles, 864 F.2d 1454, 1461 (9 Cir. 1988), vacated, 490 U.S. 1087 (1989), reinstated, 886 F.2d 235 (9th Cir. 1989); Wellman v. Faulkner, 715 F.2d 269, 272-73 (7th Cir. 1983) (“a psychiatrist is needed to supervise long term maintenance” on psychotropic medication); Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 577-78 (10th Cir. 1980).
  • Jones’El v. Berge, 164 F.Supp.2d 1096 (W.D. Wis. 2001); Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F.Supp.2d 855, 913-15 (S.D. Tex. 1999), rev’d on other grounds, 243 F.3d 941 (5th Cir. 2001), adhered to on remand, 154 F.Supp.2d 975 (S.D. Tex. 2001); Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F.Supp. 1282, 1320-21 (E.D. Cal. 1995); Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F.Supp. 1146, 1265-66 (N.D. Cal. 1995); Casey v. Lewis, 834 F.Supp. 1477, 1549-50 (D. Ariz. 1993); Finney v. Mabry, 534 F.Supp. 1026, 1036-37 (E.D. Ark. 1982); see also Gates v. Cook, 376 F.3d 323, 343 (5th Cir. 2004) (noting evidence that “the isolation and idleness of Death Row combined with the squalor, poor hygiene, temperature, and noise of extremely psychotic prisoners create an environment ‘toxic’ to the prisoners’ mental health”).
  • Morales Feliciano v. Rossello Gonzalez, 13 F.Supp.2d 151, 209, 211 (D.P.R. 1998); Madrid, 889 F.Supp.at 1220; Coleman, 912 F.Supp. at 1309; Arnold v. Lewis, 803 F.Supp. 247, 257 (D. Ariz. 1992).
  • Wells v. Franzen, 777 F.2d 1258, 1261-62 (7th Cir. 1985); Campbell v. McGruder, 580 F.2d 521, 551 (D.C. Cir. 1978).
  • Coleman, 912 F.Supp. at 1321-23; Kendrick v. Bland, 541 F.Supp. 21, 25-26 (W.D. Ky. 1981).
  • Olsen v. Layton Hills Mall, 312 F.3d 1304, 1319-20 (10th Cir. 2002).