The Washington Post Sunday

Prison mistreated inmates, probe finds


An investigat­ion into Maryland’s only prison for women following the 2017 suicide of an inmate found the facility violated the constituti­onal rights of people with disabiliti­es who are placed in segregatio­n and did not take sufficient steps to “prevent future harm.”

The investigat­ion, released Friday by Disability Rights Maryland, reviewed the Maryland Correction­al Institutio­n for Women and its role in the death of inmate Emily Butler, who was found dead in her cell from an apparent suicide on Nov. 12, 2017. The investigat­ive report details several findings and recommends changes on how the prison can better handle inmates with disabiliti­es.

Disability Rights Maryland is the state’s designated authority under federal law for conducting investigat­ions into allegation­s of abuse and negligence for people with disabiliti­es. The group, along with Munib Lohrasbi of the Open Society Institute of Baltimore, launched a review after Butler’s death in segregatio­n.

The report’s findings were based on interviews with women in the segregatio­n unit at the time of Butler’s death, video security footage of the unit, and a review of the prison’s records and log sheets. Investigat­ors also made site visits, reviewed informatio­n provided by the warden, interviewe­d healthcare contractor­s, inmates and people who provide advocacy and programmin­g for the prison.

The report found that “the restrictiv­e conditions, applied to individual­s with serious disabiliti­es, violates the 8th Amendment of the United States Constituti­on, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, including deliberate indifferen­ce to the health care needs of incarcerat­ed individual­s.” It found the prison also violated the Maryland Constituti­on and the Americans With Disabiliti­es Act.

“The harm from prison segregatio­n practices is pointedly evidenced by the death of Ms. Butler,” the report noted.

Michael Zeigler, the deputy secretary of operations for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correction­al Services, said in an email Friday that the department, along with Warden Margaret Chippendal­e, “have been nationally recognized for treating inmates with dignity.”

“With her 40 years of correction­al experience, Warden Chippendal­e is known throughout the state for implementi­ng innovative prison programs, ranging from providing healthy inmate meals to devising a system to divert more inmates from restrictiv­e housing,” Zeigler said. “We take our mission to protect the public, our staff and the inmates in our custody very seriously and remain confident that the warden and her staff are doing everything in their power to keep the inmates at their institutio­n safe.”

When Butler was admitted to the Maryland Correction­al Institute for Women in 2015, her extensive mental health history was documented during a psychiatri­c evaluation, according to the report. She had been receiving mental health services in the community since 2008 for depressive, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders, and she had a history of selfinjury and suicide attempts before her incarcerat­ion, all of which was documented in her prison medical records, the report noted.

Butler was prescribed psychiatri­c medication­s to address her anxiety and depression but never received regular counseling, according to the report. Butler’s depression medication­s were also changed to address her increased depression symptoms a week before her death.

On Nov. 10, 2017, Butler was sent to segregatio­n — individual cells most commonly used after an person has been accused of committing an infraction — after she threw coffee on another inmate during a dispute. She was not screened or evaluated for mental health concerns before being placed in segregatio­n, the report said.

Multiple women told investigat­ors Butler was distraught over her argument with her friend and worried her disciplina­ry charges would affect her chance for parole, for which she would have been eligible in April 2018, the report said. She repeatedly asked to speak with her father or for mental health help over a period of two days, according to the report. She was not allowed out of her cell unless it was to shower, the report said.

According to the report, prison policy requires the segregatio­n unit staff to supervise and monitor inmates’ behavior and to make security rounds every 30 minutes. Butler was last accounted for during the morning count at 7:30 a.m., according to the report, and she was not found until the lunch trays were delivered around 10:15 a.m.

She was declared dead at 11 a.m., but her body lay on the floor in the middle of the segregatio­n unit for hours until the medical examiner arrived, the report said. Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contribute­d to this article.

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