Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HI: State agrees to end 'therapeutic lockdowns' at OCCC

Note: Prisons are even moving away from "therapeutic seclusions" yet young children are being placed in "seclusion rooms" and "time out" in public schools...

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Updated at 3:16 p.m., Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mentally ill prisoners at Oahu Community Correctional Center will no longer be put in "therapeutic lockdowns," and treatment plans will be created for them that "adequately address serious mental health needs."

Those changes are part of a long list of improvements in the treatment of mentally ill inmates at OCCC included in a 29-page agreement filed in court this week by state and federal authorities.

The agreement is intended to settle a lawsuit filed at the same time by the U.S. Justice Department that alleges the state failed "to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care" to OCCC inmates.

Federal investigators in 2007 alleged widespread deficiencies in mental care policies and practices at the facility and since then the state "has made progress in remedying several of the alleged constitutional violations," the agreement said.

The federal investigation began in 2005 and the Department of Justice "received complete cooperation and access to OCCC and documents from the state of Hawai'i," the agreement said.

The agreement was signed by Gov. Linda Lingle, Attorney General Mark Bennett and state Public Safety Department director Clayton Frank as well as attorneys with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

Both sides agreed to use an outside monitor, University of Utah professor Russell Van Vleet, to oversee the state's compliance with the agreement.

Van Vleet has monitored state improvements at the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility that were implemented under a similar agreement between federal authorities and the state.

The state will pay Van Vleet's salary and expenses.

Among the "substantive remedial measures" at OCCC:

• End "therapeutic lockdowns," which federal investigators said in 2005 involved the long-term isolation of mentally ill inmates in cells with no contact with staff or mental health experts. DOJ experts said the practice amounted to unconstitutional punishment and "often exacerbates the effects of detainees' illnesses."

• Involve qualified mental health experts in all cases where inmates are placed in "individualized seclusion," including a "face to face assessment" within four hours of such seclusion and periodic assessments thereafter.

• Strict limits on physical restraints, which cannot be used "as punishment for psychosis-related behavior."

• Improvements in "suicide watches" of mentally ill detainees.

• Strict control of psychotropic medications to ensure they are not used as punishment, as a "substitute for adequate staff" or in lieu of "less intrusive therapies."

• Improved mental health screening of detainees and development of "individualized treatment plans that adequately address each detainee's serious mental health needs."

• Employment of an adequate number of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers and counselors.

The settlement agreement, if approved by U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright, will be in effect for 42 months, with compliance reports submitted by the monitor in 15 and 30 months.

Failure to show "material progress toward substantial compliance" with the settlement agreement could lead to reinstatement of the lawsuit.

Reach Jim Dooley at

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