Justice

Mentally Ill Inmates At Michigan Women’s Prison Report They Were Hog Tied Naked, Deprived Of Water

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Mentally ill at Michigan’s only women’s prison are deprived of food and water for days, and even “hog tied” naked as punishment, according to the accounts of several witnesses compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Witness reports include particular abuse against mentally ill inmates who are placed in solitary confinement. Inmates reported that the water had been shut off in confinement units, while guards rejected inmates’ water requests for days. At least one inmate who reported this treatment was taken to the hospital last month after she was found non-responsive in her cell.

In another instance, an inmate who was “crying naked on the floor and unable to move-because her feet were cuffed to her hands behind her back” was told that “her fellow prisoner would have to stay like that for two hours or more because she had not learned how to ‘behave’,” according to a letter from the ACLU of Michigan to the Department of Corrections, two University of Michigan law professors, and several other advocacy organizations. “The guard was referring to a young woman with serious mental illness who is unable to control her behavior unless her mental illness is properly treated.”

“According to reports we have received from multiple individuals who have witnessed these events first-hand, mentally ill inmates at Huron Valley are being treated so inhumanely that we believe many corrections experts would characterize their experience as a form of torture,” the letter states. “Witnesses have reported seeing mentally ill prisoners denied water and food, ‘hog tied’ naked for many hours, left to stand, sit, or lie naked in their own feces and urine, denied showers for days, and tasered.”

These allegations represent extreme treatment of mentally ill individuals placed in solitary confinement. But even solitary confinement itself, in which inmates are frequently held in a windowless cell alone for 23 hours a day, is a drastic and traumatic treatment that has been called a “living death” and has been deemed cruel and unusual punishment when applied to mentally ill individuals by several courts and the Justice Department. One federal judge described placing individuals with mental illness in confinement as the “mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe.” And the Mental Health Association of Michigan said the treatment “punishes people for having a brain disorder, and then exacerbates their conditions by creating an environment that is totally inconsistent with effective therapy.”

Mentally ill inmates are vulnerable to particular abuse throughout the criminal justice system, as prisons increasingly become de facto asylums. Prison discipline frequently punishes inmates with mental illness for behavior that is typical of their disorder, which can have the adverse impact of making their condition worse.

Until 2012, the Michigan Department of Corrections also performed invasive vaginal searches of women inmates during frequent strip searches, even when prison officials had no reason to suspect inmates had contraband. But the department agreed to end the practice after outrage from advocates, and an internal investigation that determined they were unnecessary.