In December 2019 and March 2020, the ACLU National Prison Project and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs made separate Freedom of Information Act requests to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for records relevant to its care and housing of people with mental illness in BOP custody. Many months later, no documents have been received. On March 30, 2022, we filed this lawsuit, together with the ACLU National Prison Project and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, asking the court to compel the BOP to release the requested documents.
According to public information, the BOP identifies less than 3% of the people in its custody as requiring mental health care. That percentage is in sharp contrast to state prison systems, most of which have 20% to 30% of their population receiving mental health care. Moreover, approximately 20% of the people coming into BOP custody are flagged by a court or in their pre-sentencing reports as likely requiring mental health care.
Additionally, the few people who are identified by the BOP as requiring mental health care are approximately twice as likely as people not so identified to be housed in solitary confinement, despite the well-recognized risks that solitary confinement poses to people who are mentally ill.
We seek these documents to assist in determining whether the extraordinarily low rate of mental illness identified by the BOP and the overrepresentation of the mentally ill in solitary confinement represents a violation of the constitutional and statutory rights of people with mental illness in BOP custody.