Treatment of Mentally Ill Individuals in Custodial Settings: Liberty Interest Deprivation and Eighth Amendment

Claim of prisoner with mental illness that liberty deprivations from facility’s Behavior Action Plans were imposed without due process and resulted in Eighth Amendment violations raises genuine issues of fact and survives motion for summary judgment

Townsend v. Cooper, 759 F.3d 678 (7th Cir. 2014)

Townsend, a prisoner at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), sued GBCI officials for civil rights violations. Townsend suffered from significant mental illness and engaged in disruptive behavior, including suicide attempts and fighting. Townsend was repeatedly subjected to observation placements and Behavioral Action Plans (BAPs). Vacating the judgment below, the Seventh Circuit held that Townsend had raised genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the imposition of the BAP violated his due process rights by imposing an atypical and significant hardship compared to the ordinary incidents of prison life, without appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard and whether the BAP imposed conditions of confinement that denied Townsend the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities.

To succeed on his Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, Townsend was required to “establish that he ha[d] a liberty interest in not being placed in the [BAP]—as it was administered to him—without procedural protections,” noting that it was “undisputed that he received no procedural due process, so the claim turns on whether he can establish a liberty interest.” Prisoners have a liberty interest, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, in “avoiding transfer to more restrictive prison conditions if those conditions result in an atypical and significant hardship when compared to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” In order to succeed on an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must show that the BAP “imposed conditions that denied him the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” and that defendants “acted in disregard of a substantial risk of serious harm to him.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1