Disability Advocates, Inc. v. Office of Mental Health, 02 CV 4002 (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action, filed in 2002, challenged the inadequate mental health services for state prisoners. Prisoners with mental illness in the state system lack appropriate treatment and housing options and as a result are frequently confined in isolated confinement housing areas due to symptomatic behavior caused by their illnesses. Isolation and poor mental health treatment often results in worsening of their psychiatric condition and in some cases self-mutilation or suicide, in violation of the Eighth Amendment and federal disability statutes. This state-wide case was filed after PRP concluded from its experience in two facility-based challenges to mental health services in isolated confinement housing areas that the problem could only be solved by systemic litigation. It sought an injunction requiring increased residential mental health beds in prison, inpatient hospital beds, increased availability of intermediate care programs, increased staffing and better training of staff throughout the state system.

The plaintiff, Disability Advocates, Inc., had statutory standing under the federal “protection and advocacy” laws to seek judicial relief on behalf of “representative constituents” who have mental illness. Thus the case was the practical equivalent of a class action on behalf of all prisoners with mental illness in the state prison system.

Current Status: The case was settled in 2007 with an agreement mandating major reforms in mental health services within the state prison system, described above.

Persons Affected: All prisoners with mental illness in the custody of the state Department of Correctional Services, estimated near 10,000.

Reported decisions: None.