The ACLU of Montana has reached a settlement with Montana State Prison over the use of solitary confinement for juvenile and mentally ill prisoners.
It limits the amount of time juveniles can be placed in isolation and provides for better treatment of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, protecting our state's most vulnerable prisoners.
"I am glad the prison is changing how it treats young offenders," said plaintiff Raistlen Katka. "I brought this lawsuit so no one else would have to endure the torture I endured."
The ACLU filed the suit, Raistlen Katka v. Montana State Prison, in 2009 to assist a mentally ill teenage prisoner who spent well over a year in solitary confinement - much of it as a juvenile. Raistlen's incarceration in the Montana State Prison's restrictive "Special Housing Unit" began in March 2009 when he was just barely 17 years old. He was subjected to numerous behavior management programs in which he was stripped naked with only a short smock to wear, and denied regular bedding and running water. In the ensuing year and one-half his mental condition seriously deteriorated, and he attempted to kill himself multiple times.
"The effects of solitary confinement on any inmate are profound, but are even more pronounced for adolescents whose brains are still developing and for persons with mental illness," said ACLU cooperating attorney Andree Larose. "On top of that, experience nationwide shows that solitary really does not work. This settlement is a step in the right direction toward making sure inmates are treated humanely and consistent with the Montana Constitution, and are incarcerated in conditions that promote successful reintegration when they are released."
The settlement mandates new Montana State Prison policies, including:
• Juveniles cannot be placed in solitary confinement or behavior management programs for longer than 72 hours without the approval of the director of the Department of Corrections or warden.
• Juveniles will initially be placed in the lowest category of confinement unless they have a significant institutional history or have been convicted of a severe offense.
• Classification of juvenile inmates will take into account their unique needs for education and mental and medical treatment and their lack of full maturity.
• Mentally ill prisoners cannot be placed into solitary confinement if it is determined it will harm their mental health, and those who are placed in solitary confinement must receive private treatment sessions with a mental health professional as often as necessary.
• Suicidal inmates cannot be placed in behavior management programs.