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Legal Settlement Improves Conditions for Pennsylvania Inmates with Mental Illness

January 9, 2015

NEW YORK, January 9, 2014 — Covington helped litigate and negotiate a settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that paves the way for better treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness.

Covington represented the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania in a civil litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania alleging that the state had repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of inmates with serious mental illness in 26 correctional institutions.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2013, alleged that mentally ill inmates were kept in solitary confinement in so-called restricted housing units for months or even years. They were locked in those units 23 hours a day, 7 days a week in a cell with little to no access to mental health treatment or other services that they needed to maintain their mental stability. In many cases, the inmates were confined to the units for actions caused by their mental illness.

In the settlement reached on January 5, the state has agreed to a complete, state-wide overhaul of its policies and practices affecting prisoners with serious mental illness. Among other reforms, the state has agreed to stop housing inmates with serious mental illness in the harsh conditions of solitary confinement.

“We are extremely pleased with the settlement. It guarantees that inmates with serious mental illness in our state will be free of the horrific conditions of the RHU [restricted housing units] and will receive appropriate mental health treatment and other services. Now they will be able to maintain their mental stability, take advantage of parole-eligibility programming, and serve their sentences in a way that does not punish them merely for having a serious mental illness,” said Peri Jude Radicec, CEO of DRNPA.

Covington represented DRNPA on a pro bono basis alongside Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLC, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The Covington team was led by David Kornblau and included Eric Hellerman, Mari Bonthuis, Michael Formichelli, and Laura Flahive Wu.

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