Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Law students sue over prisoner's meds

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 11:00 AM

University of Denver law students have filed a lawsuit against Colorado prison officials, claiming authorities are refusing care to a mentally-ill inmate. The suit was filed in federal court May 3 and alleges officials are violating federal law by withholding the inmate’s medication, holding him indefinitely in solitary confinement without a legal process to question the confinement, and denying treatment ordered by the prison system’s own doctors, according to a press release.

A DOC spokeswoman denied the allegation.

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Student lawyers Patrick Curnalia and Ashley Wheeland, at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, say Troy Anderson, 40, is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City. Housed in solitary confinement, the mentally ill man is denied all human contact and hasn’t been allowed access to outdoor recreation yards or "felt the sun on his skin in more than a decade," the press release says.

Because of his mental illness, which causes erratic behaviors when he is not medicated, Anderson has been in jail or prison for 23 of his life. Prison officials have insisted that Anderson must remain in solitary confinement until these behaviors are controlled. Yet, they refuse to provide him the medications prescribed by the prison’s own doctors, the students contend. His attorneys say, as a result he risks being incarcerated for the rest of his life, largely because of a mental illness.

The students also challenge a prison demerit system allowing officials to issue “chrons,” black marks on inmate records that are never fully explained and serve as another barrier to getting out of solitary confinement. Anderson isn't eligible for parole for another 31 years — at age 71. Unlike the vast majority of prisoners in Colorado, Anderson and others in solitary confinement have no ability to shorten this time through good behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that as a result of the prison refusing to treat him, Anderson is subjected to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and that prison officials are violating Anderson’s right to due process of law, as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the lawsuit, in September Anderson submitted a request for accommodations for his mental disabilities but was denied because of a determination that he is not disabled. Prison officials said they had determined he didn't have a mental health disability, despite Anderson's long-standing mental health history and the prison systems intermittent accommodation of that history through treatment, medication, and housing him in places specified for prisoners with mental health issues.

Anderson has attempted suicide numerous times throughout his life and has gone on hunger strikes. When a mental health professional prescribed stimulant drugs that are recommended for treatment of the kind of diagnosis Anderson has been given, the prison refused, saying stimulants aren't allowed, the lawsuit states.

The suit is not seeking Anderson’s release. Attorneys are asking the court to order proper medical care, treatment and medications for Anderson. In addition, the suit seeks an end to the arbitrary “chron” demerit system, potentially affecting prison inmates statewide.

DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said the Corrections Department doesn't deny medications.

"We have a community standard of care we must meet or exceed," she told the Independent. "We will not for ethical, moral and constitutional reasons deny any kind of medication."

She said the prison does deny some types of medication, including medical marijuana.

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