Illinois settles class-action suit on mentally ill inmates

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CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers representing 11,000 mentally ill inmates in Illinois prisons have reached a settlement with the state in a long-running class-action lawsuit that alleged inadequate treatment amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment," a deal both sides heralded on Wednesday.

Among a long list of provisions, the agreement calls for the Illinois Department of Corrections to build four new treatment units, including at Logan, Pontiac, and Dixon prisons, at a cost of $40 million. Hiring new staff members is expected to reach another $40 million a year.

Filings this week in U.S. District Court in Peoria announced the agreement, which is still subject to final approval by presiding Judge Michael M. Mihm.

Attorneys for the mentally ill inmates said the agreement will help ensure that they get better access to care and should also reduce the amount of time they spend in solitary confinement. The lawyers said in a statement that Corrections officials would release from solitary those with serious mental illnesses confined there for minor violations.

"This truly is a humane and monumental settlement that will have a lasting impact on the people of this state," said Harold C. Hirshman, one attorney for the inmates.

The Illinois Department of Corrections said Wednesday the department has already implemented major changes in mental health treatment in its prisons in recent years. IDOC Acting Director John Baldwin said in a statement that Illinois prisons were never intended to be psychiatric hospitals, but they have become holding centers for people with serious mental illness.

He added about the proposed agreement: "This will improve correctional outcomes for those with mental illness and increase safety for our dedicated staff, all offenders, and the citizens we serve."

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