Just over a year ago, lawyers from the ACLU of Delaware, Pepper Hamilton LLP and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of CLASI claiming that at least 100 prisoners with mental illness were being held in solitary confinement by the Department of Correction (DOC) under conditions known to worsen symptoms of mental illness such as paranoia, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts. On September 6th, we announced that a settlement between the Delaware Department of Correction and CLASI had been reached and subsequently approved by the court.

The settlement agreement details three main areas of improvement—overall mental health care for inmates, liberalized conditions of confinement, and reducing the number of days inmates can be held in solitary confinement for discipline reasons. Many of the terms of the agreement positively impact all inmates being held in solitary, not just inmates with mental illness.

“I am thrilled that we have been able to achieve a comprehensive settlement that for all intents and purposes ends solitary confinement of individuals with mental illness as we know it. The DOC’s commitment to this change is a reflection of the parties listening to the experts about what makes sense from both a penological and rehabilitative perspective,” said Dan Atkins, executive director of CLASI.

Some of the highlights of the agreement include:

  • Greatly expanded mental health staffing and services for all inmates who need them;
  • Establishment of a mental health unit at Baylor women’s prison and construction of an additional facility at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center to house mental health services;
  • A requirement that mental health status be considered before an inmate can be placed in solitary confinement for discipline purposes;
  • An increase from 3 hours a week to 17.5 hours per week of out-of-cell time for most inmates held in solitary cells and significantly increased out-of-cell time for inmates who need therapeutic activities according to their individualized mental health treatment plan; and
  • Implementation of a policy that in most cases prevents the release of inmates to the “street” directly from solitary conditions.

“The many changes Commissioner Coupe and DOC have voluntarily agreed to make will produce safer, more humane and more effective prisons. That is important in every state, but especially in Delaware, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. We are gratified that DOC has agreed to these progressive changes, and are hopeful that even more progress will be realized as Delaware moves forward,” said Rich Morse, ACLU-DE legal director.

The settlement agreement also gives CLASI the right to the access and information it needs to monitor DOC’s compliance with the court order resolving the case. CLASI will be assisted in that regard by a nationally known psychiatrist with expertise in prison issues.

For more information, see CLASI v. Coupe Joint Statement, CLASI v. Coupe SummaryCLASI v. Coupe Agreement and Order, and Exhibits to Agreement and Order.

Updated 2/10/17: Read our 2/8/17 press release "ACLU and CLASI Respond to COAD."