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October 24, 2015

ACLU: Some Pa. inmates wait a year for mental health treatment

Civil Liberties group brings lawsuit against state over waiting period for prisoners with psychiatric needs

Prisons Mental Health
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Prison Cell

Some Pennsylvania prisoners wait more than a year in solitary confinement without court-ordered mental health treatment, a lawsuit brought against the state Thursday alleges. 

According to the ACLU, despite federal court decisions that state inmates with severe mental health issues shouldn't wait longer than seven days before being transferred to hospitals or psychiatric care, the state "warehouses" prisoners in need at county jails that are unprepared to fulfill their needs. 

In Philadelphia, the civil rights group says the average wait time for patients to be transferred to the state forensic hospital in Norristown was 397 days this year, with some waiting as long as 597 days. 

 “There’s no question that our clients are incompetent, need treatment and need it promptly. They shouldn’t be in jail for months and years, much less in solitary confinement without treatment,” said David Gersch, the lead lawyer from Arnold & Porter, a Washington D.C. law firm that co-filed the case.

Governor Tom Wolf's press secretary Kate Gillis told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while the administration couldn't comment on pending litigation, the state has been working to improve forensic services. 

Earlier this year, the Delaware ACLU brought a similar lawsuit against the state. The suit alleged that inmates with mental health issues were held in ways that made their conditions severely worse, including long hours of isolation. 

The Pennsylvania lawsuit can be read in full here