Settlement to force overhaul of Illinois solitary confinement practices

Barbed wire in front of the outside wall of a prison with dark windows

Illinois to Improve Solitary Confinement Practices
Illinois to Improve Solitary Confinement Practices

The Illinois Department of Corrections has reached a comprehensive settlement with a coalition of disability rights groups, agreeing to improve mental health services in state prison and reduce the use of solitary confinement.

“Just because a person with mental illness is in prison doesn’t mean they lose their rights under the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Barry Taylor, Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality, in a news release. “This agreement will ensure that people with serious mental illness will be given critical treatment they are entitled to under the law.”

Equip for Equality, Dentons, Uptown People’s Law Center, and Mayer Brown previously filed a class-action lawsuit against the IDOC, alleging that its solitary confinement practices violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the equal protection rights of prisoners with mental illness.

Under the settlement, filed December 23, the IDOC must provide all individuals in solitary confinement at least 20 hours per week out of the cell, up from the current practice of less than one hour per day.

It will also review the mental health of all prisoners held in solitary confinement for more than 60 days. All prisoners will be entitled to group, or one-on-one, therapy services.

The IDOC will spend $40 million on four new residential treatment units across the state. It will hire 400 new clinical staff and 500 new security guard staff for the facilities.

The U.S. District Court Court for the Central District of Illinois must still approve the settlement.

“This truly is a humane and monumental settlement that will have a lasting impact on the people of this state,” Dentons’ attorney Harold Hirshman said in the news release. “For too long, we have ignored and mistreated the mentally ill population of our correctional institutions due to a systemic failure to recognize their unique circumstances. I believe this settlement will redress and protect the Constitutional rights of these members of our society.”

Equip for Equality and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Illinois and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.