Justice Department and Columbus, Georgia, Agree to Landmark Reforms Regarding the Treatment of Prisoners with Serious Mental Illness
Today, the Justice Department reached an agreement with Columbus, Georgia, that will address the remaining goals of a long-standing consent decree calling for reforms of its mental health system.
Muscogee County has made significant improvements at the Muscogee County Jail in the areas of security, environmental health and safety as well as modest improvements in the provision of medical care following a 1999 federal consent agreement. In order to address the continued deficiencies that remain, with respect to identifying, treating and housing prisoners with severe and persistent mental illness, jail leadership worked collaboratively with the Justice Department to create additional solutions that will improve mental health care without compromising security through a supplemental agreement.
The existing consent decree will remain in place and the supplemental agreement adds crucial safeguards for prisoners with serious mental illness. The supplemental agreement restricts the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with serious mental illness and limits the use of solitary confinement after 14 days. The jail will provide secure mental health and step-down units, and programs to provide prisoners with serious mental illness a total of at least 24 hours structured and unstructured time out-of-cell each week. These and other measures will vastly improve the quality of mental health care services in the Muscogee County Jail, while helping to minimize violence in the facility.
The supplemental agreement also includes robust training requirements. All correctional staff must receive Crisis Intervention Team training, including training on understanding and recognizing psychiatric signs and symptoms to identify prisoners who have or may have serious mental illness, using de-escalation techniques to calm and reassure prisoners who have or may have serious mental illness before resorting to use of force, discipline, or solitary confinement, and making appropriate mental health referrals.
“The Constitution requires that those detained in our nation’s jails and prisons are treated humanely and receive adequate mental health care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division. “We are glad to have been able to work with Sheriff Darr, Jail Commander Collins, and Columbus, Georgia, in crafting sensible solutions to address a pressing issue confronting corrections administrators throughout this country: the burgeoning numbers of men and women with mental illness in our correctional institutions.
“These reforms will not only improve mental health care for this vulnerable population, but also enhance security within the facility, and facilitate inmates’ successful reintegration into the community upon release, which will help make our society safer,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore for the Middle District of Georgia.
The agreement requires a monitor to oversee implementation of the agreement and issue a compliance report every six months.
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act authorizes the department to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of persons confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility. Please visit the division website to learn more about this act and other laws enforced by the Civil Rights Division.
This agreement is due to the efforts of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division, and the leadership of Columbus, Georgia, a consolidated government, acting by and through the Sheriff of Muscogee County, in his official capacity, and the Columbus City Manager, in his official capacity, as authorized by the Columbus Council.