Class action lawsuit alleges torture at the Supermax prison

Writing in the Atlantic Magazine, award-winning journalist Andrew Cohen recently provided a harrowing account of a new class-action lawsuit filed against the ADX-Florence prison facility near Florence, Colorado, commonly known as Supermax, that alleges widespread torture of people with mental disabilities.

Hands on cell pars
Conditions called torture

“The plaintiffs and others named in the lawsuit — there are 11 men in all and more will likely be added — live in a world recognizable more from the work of Kafka and Dostoevsky than from modern American life,” Cohen writes. “In the name of prison safety, or in the name of nothing at all, they are often treated like animals and, when they complain, they are punished.

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and it’s hard to imagine anything more cruel than punishing a mentally ill person for the manifestations of his illness. Yet this allegedly occurs regularly at the ADX/Supermax facility.”

The lawsuit, filed June 18 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, accuses the facility of deliberately ignoring the medical and psychological conditions of its prisoners. Noting that the facility employs just two mental health professionals for 450 prisoners, the lawsuit details how certain areas of the prison allegedly bar individuals from using psychotropic medications, even for those prisoners placed in solitary confinement.

“[The Bureau of Prisons] justifies this in Orwellian fashion: it discontinues the prisoner’s medication, thereby making the now non-medicated prisoner ‘eligible’ for placement in the Control Unit,” the lawsuit states. “Then, when this newly eligible prisoner requests medication needed to treat his serious mental illness, he is told that BOP policy prohibits the administration of psychotropic medication to him so he should develop ‘coping skills’ as a substitute for medicine being withheld.”

In addition to ending these practices, the lawsuit calls on the prison to improve staff training, overhaul its counseling and medication practices and create effective safeguards to protect the prisoners’ constitutional rights.

“Currently, BOP turns a blind eye to the needs of the mentally ill at ADX and to deplorable conditions of confinement that are injurious, callous and inhumane to those prisoners,” the lawsuit states. “No civilized society treats its mentally disabled citizens with a comparable level of deliberate indifference to their plight.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented by Arnold and Palmer and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the Atlantic’s series on the lawsuit can be read here.