Peoria, Illinois (May 16, 2016) — After a seven-year legal battle, a major pro bono court victory occurred Friday when a judge in the Federal District Court for the Central District of Illinois approved a settlement to improve the treatment of thousands of prisoners with mental illnesses. Under the terms of this groundbreaking settlement, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) will be required to provide specialized healthcare and services for approximately 11,000 mentally ill prisoners, as well as create facilities and hire staff to treat this vulnerable segment of the prison population.

Dentons, Equip for Equality, Mayer Brown, and Uptown People’s Law Center were co-counsel on this important class action case. 

“I’ll never forget a man I saw at Menard who had suffered severe childhood trauma, and had serious mental illness,” said Alan Mills, Executive Director of Uptown People’s Law Center. „He was involuntarily injected with powerful anti-psychotic drugs, but was left otherwise untreated. He was locked in a tiny airless solitary cell 24 hours a day, with 30 more years to do there. He had developed bedsores, as he literally did nothing but lie in bed, zoned out on drugs 24/7. This agreement will end horrors like his. People will get treatment, be allowed out of their cells, and the use of solitary confinement will be reduced. We look forward to working with the IDOC to make this agreement a reality for our clients.”

As part of the settlement:
For the first time ever, Illinois will provide both long-term and acute care for prisoners who are so seriously mentally ill that they require hospitalization. Previously, these very ill people were either relegated to solitary confinement, or left for months in “crisis cells,” where they are stripped of all possessions, left totally isolated from other prisoners, and watched 24 hours a day to ensure they do not commit suicide.
More than 300 new clinical staff will be hired to treat prisoners with serious mental illnesses, along with over 400 new security staff to work at the new residential treatment units. This will allow IDOC to provide group therapy and one-on-one therapy for prisoners, which was virtually unheard of previously.
Four residential treatment units will be constructed at Logan, Pontiac, and Dixon Correctional Centers, and the now-closed Illinois Youth Center in Joliet. This will allow the release of many people currently held in long-term solitary confinement into more appropriate, treatment-oriented housing.
IDOC will review the mental health of all prisoners with more than 60 days left in solitary, to determine if they should be given early release. IDOC will also release from solitary all prisoners with serious mental illnesses who are confined there for minor, non-violent offenses, and in the future will consider mental health before sentencing someone to segregation.
Prisoners with mental illnesses who are in solitary confinement for over 60 days will have their out-of-cell time increased from less than an hour a day to 20 hours a week. Construction costs for the new facilities are estimated to be $40 million and the new personnel costs are expected to be approximately $40 million annually. This spending will be a part of the appropriations process.

Harold C. Hirshman, a partner with Dentons, led the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Rasho v. Walker. „This truly is a humane and monumental settlement that will have a lasting impact on the people of this state,” said Hirshman. „For too long, we have ignored and mistreated the mentally ill population of our correctional institutions due to a systemic failure to recognize their unique circumstances. I believe this settlement will redress and protect the Constitutional rights of these members of our society.”

“Just because a person with mental illness is in prison doesn’t mean they lose their rights under the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Barry Taylor, Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality. “This agreement will ensure that people with serious mental illness will be given critical treatment they are entitled to under the law.”

„Consistent with our Firm’s core values, we are deeply committed to making a positive impact on the communities in which we live and serve,” said Mike McNamara, Dentons’ US managing partner. „This resolution, after nearly seven years and countless hours of hard work, truly embodies that spirit and we are proud of our colleagues for their leadership in attending to these important social issues.”

About Dentons:
Dentons is the world’s first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world’s largest law firm, Dentons’ global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. 

About Equip for Equality:
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit legal advocacy organization and is the federally mandated Protection & Advocacy System designated to safeguard the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities.

About Mayer Brown:
Mayer Brown is one of the largest global law firms both by number of lawyers and revenue. The firm has lawyers in key business centers across the Americas, Asia and Europe. Mayer Brown serves many of the world’s largest companies and financial services organizations, including a significant proportion of the Fortune 100, FTSE 100, DAX and Hang Seng Index companies and most of the major investment banks. Mayer Brown provides legal services in areas such as Supreme Court and appellate; litigation; corporate and securities; finance; real estate; tax; intellectual property; government and global trade; restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency; and environmental. 

About Uptown People’s Law Center:
Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners’ rights, Social Security disability, and tenants’ rights and eviction defense. UPLC currently has nine pending class action lawsuits regarding jail and prison conditions.