HELENA – The American Civil Liberties Union said Monday that Montana prison officials have agreed to change their procedures to settle a complaint over a juvenile inmate placed in solitary confinement.
The ACLU sued in 2009 over the treatment of a 17-year-old boy they argued had spent more than a year in solitary confinement at the Montana State Prison. Raistlen Katka had been sent to the adult facility after officials said he assaulted a guard at a youth facility.
The ACLU said the settlement forces “significant” changes in the way vulnerable prisoners are handled, while the Department of Corrections downplayed the changes as minor adjustments to current procedure.
The settlement limits the amount of time juveniles can be placed in isolation and sets up new rules for treatment of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, the ACLU said.
Katka, who is now out of the prison on parole, welcomed the settlement.
“I brought this lawsuit so no one else would have to endure the torture I endured,” he said in a news release.
The ACLU said the agreement calls for top-level review after a juvenile has been in solitary confinement or a behavior management program for longer than 72 hours. It also specifies the lowest category of confinement for such offenders, unless they have significant prison problems or a conviction of a severe offense.
The deal also mandates new safeguards for mentally ill prisoners placed into solitary confinement, such as private treatment sessions.
Such treatment programs can have a “pronounced” effect on vulnerable prisoners, the ACLU said. The organization’s attorney, Andree Larose, called the agreement “a step in the right direction toward making sure inmates are treated humanely and consistent with the Montana Constitution.”
The ACLU has said that Katka’s behavior improved once he was taken out of the behavior management programs, which the group said included stripping him naked with only a smock to wear.
An attorney for the Montana Department of Corrections said the settlement does not make significant changes, and mostly just formalizes current procedures.
“With minor exceptions, which were perfectly acceptable to prison administration, the settlement agreement simply memorializes what the prison has been doing as a matter of course for what has always been a small subset of the inmate population,” Max Davis, an attorney working with the DOC on the case, said in a statement.