Judge finds Illinois prisons failing to meet the needs of mentally ill inmates

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SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — A federal judge said the Illinois Department of Corrections has failed to meet the needs of mentally ill prison inmates.

The finding comes two years after the state reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by former inmates.

That 2016 settlement established 25 provisions for the IDOC to meet. A court-appointed monitor said the department did not comply with 18 of those.

Harold Hirshman, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs on the 2016 settlement, said one issue is staffing.

“The settlement agreement provided that they were supposed to hire a significant number of additional mental health personnel and they hadn’t,” Hirshman said. “We went back to court to force them to do it.”

Hirshman said the monitor called the situation an emergency because some inmates were not getting proper oversight or care.

The IDOC said in a statement that the department is committed to improving care.

Nearly 12,000 of the state’s 40,000 inmates are thought to have mental health issues.

Hirshman said there have been some changes, but not enough.

“It’s a very sad thing that getting a written commitment from the state in the guise of curing a constitutional violation still doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it.”

Still, he said the lawsuit has helped to improve care.

“Yes, we have definitely made progress,” Hirshman said. “They’ve gone from 19 psychiatrists to 50 psychiatrists. That’s progress.”

The state must respond with plans to remedy the problems. Hirshman said if that doesn’t work, he’ll go back to court to ask the judge to find the state in contempt.

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