Montana prison sued for solitary confinement practices

closeup of hands holding the bars of a jail cell
Solitary Confinement

Disability Rights Montana filed a class-action lawsuit March 31, accusing the state of violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, for its treatment of people with disabilities in its state prison.

“Rather than diagnosing, treating, and monitoring prisoners with serious mental illness, the Prison Defendants use solitary confinement – keeping prisoners isolated in cells for 22 to 24 hours a day for weeks and even months and years at a time – as a common means for addressing the behavioral problems associated with prisoners with serious mental illness,” the lawsuit states.

“The Prison Defendants subject prisoners to solitary confinement without regard to whether prisoners’ behavior is a product of their mental illness or the effect that solitary confinement will have on their mental health.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, comes one month after Disability Rights Montana, along with the ACLU of Montana, released the findings of a scathing year-long investigation into the system.

“Even if someone is incarcerated in prison they have a constitutional right to a minimum standard of care – health care and mental health care,” Bernadette Franks-Ongoy, the executive director of Disability Right Montana, said after the February investigation was released, according to KTVQ. “And right now, Montana State Prison … based on our investigation, falls below that Constitutional standard of care.”

Disability Rights Montana is the federally funded protection and advocacy system in Montana, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.