HRW: US prisons using excessive force on mentally disabled prisoners

HRW: US prisons using excessive force on mentally disabled prisoners

[JURIST] Mentally disabled prisoners experience “unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force” at the hands of prison staff across the US, said a report [text] released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The report found excessive force used in many instances when prisoners exhibit behaviors that are characteristic of their mental illness and even when this behavior was not threatening. Some of the conduct by prison officials described by HRW include electric shocks, strapping prisoners to beds for days, second degree burns and using chemical sprays. Such force occurred most often in jails or prisons that were overcrowded, lacked rehabilitative and educational programs, or were in poor physical conditions. HRW is recommending, among other things, that federal, state and local governments enact legislation to ensure that facilities cooperate with mental health treatments and substance abuse treatments, reduce prison overcrowding and improve mental health services in prisons.

The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] has been a growing concern in the US for years. In April the US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Kingsley v. Hendrickson over the standard that should be applied to excessive-force claims brought by pre-trial detainees. A federal court in February approved [JURIST report] a settlement agreement between the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) [official website] and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] in a class action lawsuit over the health care system within Arizona prisons. Also in February rights group Equal Justice Under Law [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri, for their practice of jailing citizens who fail to pay debts owed to the city for minor offenses and traffic tickets. The ACLU and the ACLU of Texas [advocacy website] released a report last June exposing [JURIST report] the results of a multi-year investigation into conditions at five Criminal Alien Requirement prisons in Texas.