Illinois Department of Corrections lawsuit settlement includes changes in mental health programs

Nora Shelly, Assistant City Editor

The settlement in a lawsuit between the Illinois Department of Corrections and a prisoner approved by a judge Friday will make changes to the state’s treatment of mentally-ill inmates.

State prisoner Ashoor Rasho filed a suit against the head of the IDOC in 2007 and an agreement was reached between the two parties in December. According to a news release from the plaintiffs, the agreement requires the IDOC make changes to better treat the estimated 11,000 inmates in the state who have mental health issues, including hiring more than 300 additional mental health staff for group and one-on-one therapy.

“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, an attorney with a legal advocacy organization that was co-counsel on the case, said in the release. “This agreement will ensure that people with serious mental illness will be given critical treatment they are entitled to under the law.”

According to an IDOC news release, the agreement has led the department to make several changes to its current policies, including continuing construction on new residential treatment facilities and limiting an inmate’s time separated from the general prison population.

Additionally, a mental health professional will consult on disciplinary actions involving a mentally ill individual, and the IDOC has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Illinois to train all staff in how to deal with someone who might have a mental illness.

“While the Department does not admit liability regarding the allegations made in the suit, it does recognize that providing adequate care for offenders with mental illness will improve their quality of life and ultimately improve safety within its correctional facilities,” the news release stated.

According to court documents, Ashoor Rasho suffers from a mental illness and has been imprisoned at Pontiac Correctional Center, where he says he was subjected to prolonged isolation. In these documents, Rasho contends that being in solitary confinement led to being “caught in a cycle that has worsened his illness,” and that he and other inmates were “forcibly and against their will given injections of medicine to sedate them and not treat them.”

The suit was partially settled in 2013, but the IDOC was not able to fully craft a plan that would address the issues raised in the suit.

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