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Prison proposes revised punishment system

Prison proposes revised punishment system

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HELENA (AP) - Corrections officials say they plan major changes to the "behavioral management plans" they use to control unruly inmates, but that they need some of the methods the Montana Supreme Court has condemned.

Corrections Department lawyer Diana Koch wrote to Great Falls District Judge Kenneth Neill this month that the prison will stop locking inmates naked in barren cells and would satisfy all of the court's concerns about the humane treatment of inmates.

Koch argued, however, that the Supreme Court did not forbid all behavior management plans, but only plans that, when combined with the living conditions of a certain prison wing, worsened a mentally ill inmate's mental condition. Therefore, she said, the prison should be able to use behavior management plans on prisoners who are acting up but are not mentally ill.

Koch said she believes the changes will allow the prison "to walk the tightrope" between maintaining order and maintaining personal dignity of inmates.

Sunday Rossberg, attorney for Mark Walker, the inmate whose case brought the Supreme Court ruling, disagreed.

"This is just a slight change. It's not going to help those who are mentally ill," she said.

Rossberg said the changes would not weed out mentally ill inmates because prison mental health doctors routinely misdiagnose the mentally ill with lesser ailments, as they did with Walker.

Rossberg and Eric Olson, a Great Falls public defender who led Walker's legal team, submitted their own plans calling for a thorough investigation into conditions throughout the prison, particularly conditions for prisoners singled out for bad behavior.

Both recommendations were submitted July 1. Neill's secretary said this week he has not had time to thoroughly review them.

The Supreme Court ruled in April that some of the methods used against Walker in 1999 violate a prisoner's human dignity and worsened Walker's mental condition, which had been diagnosed as bipolar disorder. The justices said those methods constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The high court sent the case back to Neill and told lawyers from both sides to submit recommendations to fix the situation.

Behavior management plans aim at controlling unruly inmates by depriving them of such basics as a mattress or water until the disruption ends. If a prisoner flooded his cell by over-flushing his toilet, for example, the water would be turned off for a few days.

An inmate also might lose his mattress or his clothing.

The changes that Koch proposed limited use of the plans to those people who do not suffer from major mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The plans would be the same for every prisoner: an inmate placed on a behavior management plan would have his regular mattress, meals and clothes taken away. In their place, the inmate would wear a "suicide garment," sleep on a special, indestructible mattress and receive Nutraloaf, a meatloaf-like meal bar.

The plans could last up to six months, although Koch said prison officials do not expect anyone to require such a long plan.

Inmates would undergo a psychological assessment before being placed on a management plan and would be monitored for signs of depression and suicidal behavior. If the prisoner is deemed to be suffering under the plan, it would be stopped, she said.


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