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August 08, 2015

Civil liberties groups sue Delaware prisons

Allege poor conditions for inmates with mental illnesses

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Delaware Prison Delaware Department of Corrections/Contributed Art

The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware.

Two civil liberties organizations are suing Delaware prisons over the solitary confinement of inmates with mental illness. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware (ACLU) announced the lawsuit Thursday, filed along with the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI), which alleges that the Delaware Department of Corrections (DOC) holds prisoners with mental illnesses in ways known to make their conditions worse. 

According to the ACLU, 100 prisoners with mental illness held in the Secure Housing Unit of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna are kept in small cells for 23-24 hours a day. The group says that the isolation can cause those prisoners to cause self-inflicted injuries, experience paranoia and in some cases make suicide attempts. 

“Someday, the vast majority of these inmates will be released back into the community. How are these individuals or the community at large served by such cruel and destructive policies and practices?” Daniel Atkins, the executive director of CLASI said in a press release

The ACLU noted recent comments from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denouncing solitary confinement. In a June ruling, Kennedy criticized the practice. Per The Atlantic

“Research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.”

According to the News Journal, the DOC claims they have been working to address the issues raised in the lawsuit, but believe "constructive engagement" and not litigation is the best way towards reform. 

On Friday, without referencing the lawsuit, the DOC said they were looking for experienced individuals or organizations to help examine and evaluate its housing practices. 

Seeking a written report, one of the minimum requirements for the examination of the DOC's restrictive housing practices is a professional look at how solitary confinement impacts those with mental illness. 

Proposals are to be submitted by 1 p.m. on Thursday, August 24, and be sent to the department's controller Kimberly Girantino at 245 McKee Road, Dover, DE 19904.