Reynolds v. Abate, 81 Civ. 107 (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action raised claims of inadequate mental health care, excessive use of psychotropic medications, excessive force, and unconstitutional living conditions in the prison psychiatric wards of City hospitals; it also challenged the shackling to beds of prisoners “outposted” to civilian medical wards and the shackling of pregnant women during labor and delivery.

Current status: A consent judgment was entered in 1990. It addressed a wide range of issues with respect to conditions of confinement and the provision of mental health care for prisoners confined on the Bellevue and Elmhurst prison psychiatric ward. It sets forth explicit requirements as to clinical staffing levels, the frequency with which patients must be seen by this treatment staff, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and activity therapy, and imposes limitations on the role Correction officers can play in interacting with prisoner-patients. It also sets limits on how restraint, seclusion and involuntary administration of medication can be used.

As to medically ill inmates who are “outposted”– confined in civilian medical wards, guarded 24 hours a day 7 days a week by armed correctional staff–the consent judgment limits the situations in which a patient can be chained to his or her bed. It prohibits the shackling of certain categories of prisoner-patients: when a woman is admitted to the hospital to deliver a baby, when the patient is in imminent danger of death, when the patient is on a respirator or ventilator, or when the shackles are medically contra-indicated. In other situations, DOC is required to consider the use of shackles on a case to case basis, weighing both the security need for shackles and the patient's medical condition; medical staff is required to provide information on whether shackling is appropriate, given the patient's condition and treatment.

PRP has been responding to individual complaints and intervenes periodically with respect to the shackling of outposted prisoners, After two years of serious complaints about this, in the fall of 2008 the City moved to terminate all requirements of the Consent Judgment.

The Prisoners’ Rights Project is vigorously opposing the City’s motion. Substantial discovery is ongoing and a hearing on the City’s motion will occur.

Persons Affected: The number of prisoners in prison psychiatric wards and outposted in the civilian wards in the City hospitals has been around 100.

Reported decisions: None.