Judge orders Alaska to stop jailing mentally ill people

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) A judge has ruled Alaska must end the practice of detaining mentally ill people in jails when the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is unable to provide treatment, court records said.

The ruling issued Monday orders the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to come up with a plan by Dec. 5 to stop the practice, with a few very exceptions, The Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse gave the state 90 days after the December deadline to enact the plan.

Dozens of mentally ill Alaskans have been held in windowless prison cells, shackled, forced to sleep on concrete slabs, and isolated in solitary confinement. Using jails to house people detained on civil psychiatric holds causes “irreparable harm,” Morse wrote.

“Civil detainees are being subject to extraordinary conditions that amount to punishment,” Morse’s ruling said.

The order was the result of a lawsuit filed more than a year ago by the Disability Law Center of Alaska and the Public Defender Agency. The lawsuit sought to end jail and emergency room detentions for people suffering from a mental health crisis.

The issue of involuntarily committed psychiatric patients being held in jails due to lack of space came to light last October when the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage was unable to field enough staff to provide beds for all the patients with severe mental health problems sent there from across the state.

People ordered into state custody because they were a danger to themselves or others were sent to the Anchorage jail, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Anchorage or hospital emergency rooms for up to 14 days, officials said.

Alaska Department of Law attorneys are still analyzing Monday’s ruling, said spokeswoman Cori Mills.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com