Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s Protection and Advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities, is announcing a settlement agreement signed with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) which will have widespread impact on the care and treatment for persons with severe and persistent psychiatric disabilities incarcerated throughout Florida’s prisons. The suit was brought with the assistance of attorneys from Florida Legal Services and the Holland & Knight law firm. The complaint, filed alongside the settlement agreement, alleged that the FDC deliberately and consistently denied mental health care to individuals with mental illness confined in inpatient mental health care units. Disability Rights Florida alleged that lack of care contributed to several deaths, including suicides, due to the failure to provide appropriate mental health care and adequate supervision. Disability Rights Florida further alleged that persons with mental illness were denied access to programs, services, and activities due to segregation and isolation.
“This settlement agreement represents significant changes to the way that inmates with serious mental illness receive care and treatment while serving sentences in Florida’s prisons” said Maryellen McDonald, Executive Director of Disability Rights Florida. “With the dramatic rise of individuals with serious mental illness entering our criminal justice system, it is no surprise that our state prisons have sadly become the last stop for those most at risk of severe psychiatric crisis. We are very pleased that Secretary Jones and the Office of General Counsel chose to resolve this matter through mediation and negotiation rather than protracted litigation.”
The settlement agreement was the result of a multiyear investigation by Disability Rights Florida into the care and treatment of inmates with mental illness in the Florida prison system. The results of that investigation, combined with the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of experts, led to a year-long set of mediation sessions between the parties. The settlement agreement was collaboratively crafted with the assistance of Judge Harvey Schlesinger, a federal court judge in the Middle District of Florida.
The agreement includes provision for monitoring by the Correctional Medical Authority that will span over two years. During that time, FDC has agreed to make widespread changes in its psychiatric treatment system by providing individually-tailored, results-driven treatments with a multidisciplinary treatment team focus. Many of Disability Rights Florida’s complaints concerned the isolation of inmates with mental illness, and FDC will enact policies that increase the amount of time inmates spend outside their cells in therapeutic activities along with purposeful encouragement for these patients to leave their cells to engage in treatment services. Finally, perhaps most important, FDC has agreed to provide extensive training to its medical providers and security staff working with this population of inmates due to their specialized set of needs in the institutional setting.
The attorneys who participated on the case were Peter Sleasman, Kristen Lentz, and David Boyer from Disability Rights Florida; Christopher Jones and Andrea Costello from Florida Legal Services; and Buddy Schulz, Laura Renstrom, Sheila Shen, and Mindy Higby from Holland & Knight. The case is Disability Rights Florida v. Jones, 3:18-cv-179-J-25JRK in the Middle District of Florida. For more information or copies of the Settlement Agreement, please contact Peter Sleasman at Disability Rights Florida, [email protected] or 850.488.9071.