Representatives from Disability Rights Washington will travel to Washington D.C.. Wednesday to present the findings of a new report about inmates with mental illness in prisons nationwide.
The report, "Locked up and Locked Down: Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness," highlights reforms made at prisons in over 20 states following intervention by protection agencies and litigation.
According to the report, inmates with mental illness complain of being unfairly segregated, restrained and denied the care they need.
It's estimated roughly 80-100,000 inmates are in placed in segregation, also known as solitary confinement.
Those inmates spend roughly 22-24 hours per day alone in their cell with little to no contact or support.
"These conditions are harmful to anyone and can create symptoms of mental illness even in people who are previously undiagnosed," said Anna Guy, attorney with Disability Rights Washington and author of the report. "It can be catastrophic to people who already had a diagnosed mental illness."
The report follows a January op-ed by President Obama demanding prisons nationwide rethink the use of solitary confinement. President Obama said the Department of Justice would limit the use of solitary confinement and increase treatment for inmates with mental illness.
Now, eight months later, the protection agency is asking the federal government to follow through.
Video from the AVID Prison Project documents the small rooms where inmates are kept.
Representatives from Disability Rights Washington and other protection agencies have special status to access these areas rarely seen by others and advocate for change.
"Segregation, for me, was pretty much hell," said Daniel Perez, an inmate placed in solitary at a prison in Washington. "It's a 23 hour lockdown."
"There is nothing good that I have seen come out of solitary confinement," said Justin Rueb, an inmate placed in solitary at a prison in Colorado.
Guy's report seeks to prove progress is possible with adequate resources.
She highlights reforms in over 20 states like Colorado, where the state set mandatory hours for therapeutic time, and Washington, where the state agreed to stop infracting people for self harm behavior.
"From a legal perspective it's frustrating because we can see that changes are being made around the country and people don't have to live in these conditions," Guy said.
Guy's report calls for increased funding for advocacy agencies like Disability Rights Washington, which can work with prisons to establish meaningful reforms.
It also calls for the creation of a prison ombudsman to address inmate concerns and better record keeping about people with mental illness in prison.
The report will be available here Thursday, September 8.