This out-of-court investigation of the Huron Valley Correctional Facility was launched in September 2010 by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. It has examined the treatment of prisoners with disabilities at the all-women's facility, including their medical treatment, mental health treatment, suicide prevention efforts, and nursing care. Huron Valley is a Michigan prison in Ypsilanti Michigan.
The DOJ began the investigation by visiting the prison in October 2010 and again in January 2011, with experts. On June 6, 2011, the DOJ sent the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) a first findings letter detailing its conclusions. The letter reported a number of potential violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The DOJ found problems including: prisoners being charged for treatment of self-injurious behavior; lapses in medication and treatment for prisoners with chronic medical conditions; long lines in harsh outdoor conditions for prisoners receiving medication; failure to provide hearing-impaired prisoners with hearing evaluations and aids; and inadequate medical equipment.
The DOJ had brought in an expert on suicide prevention, Lindsay M. Hayes (Project Director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives) as part of its investigation. In his report, dated three days after the findings letter, Mr. Hayes identified a number of problems with the MDOC’s approach to suicide prevention at Huron Valley. He found that there were problems in training, in record-keeping, in the decision to take away suicidal prisoners’ privileges, in making prison living environments “suicide-resistant,” and in risk-assessment of potentially suicidal prisoners. He suggested a number of remedies, including: replacing computer-based with in-person training; introducing a daily roster of inmates on suicide precautions; disciplinary action for any employee who violates suicide-prevention policies, falsifies reports, or impedes investigations of suicides; daily assessments of suicidal prisoners; and requiring written justification for any decisions to deprive suicidal prisoners of privileges (to avoid conflating precautionary and disciplinary actions).
In January 2012, DOJ brought in an additional expert, Dr. Robert Greifinger; he wrote a report critical of Huron Valley's medical care that is not included in the Clearinghouse record. In June 2012, the DOJ issued another findings letter. It included a grid identifying alleged ADA violations related to the prison's physical structures. The alleged violations included such things as inadequate van-accessible parking spaces, exposed pipes under wash basins and sinks, improperly placed toilets or mirrors in bathrooms, improper door and shower widths, and improper heights of various fixtures, such as drinking fountains, shower grab bars, and tables. In addition, it urged MDOC to ensure that inmates with physical disabilities were housed in accessible cells; to provide inmates with mobility disabilities with assistance in getting around the prison and activities of daily living such as eating, cleaning, etc.; to provide appropriate receptacles for the disposal of biomedical waste, diapers, catheters and the like; to provide shower chairs and wheelchairs; to do a better job communicating effectively with prisoners who are deaf or hard of hearing or blind or have low vision.
On March 7, 2013, MDOC's lawyer responded in detail to the two findings letters, identifying areas where the prison disagreed with some of the findings, and where it was willing to undertake policy and practice changes. Some additional correspondence identifies remaining disagreements.
Evidently, the DOJ and MDOC met on May 1, 2013, to try to resolve the matter. After the May 1 meeting, the MDOC began issuing tri-annual reports on improvements at Huron Valley. Dr. Greifinger visited the facility again in July 2013, and issued another report (this one present in our records) on the medical care provided to prisoners with disabilities on July 23, 2013.
On June 16, 2014, the DOJ sent the MDOC a letter detailing a plan for closing the investigation. In that letter, the DOJ cited a number of changes that the MDOC had made to address the problems identified by the DOJ, and the MDOC’s claim that it would implement additional changes to address any remaining concerns by December 31, 2014. DOJ informed MDOC that the investigation would be closed if the MDOC fulfilled its remaining pledges by that date. The DOJ would continue to monitor the MDOC’s activities at Huron Valley until the end of 2014, to ensure that the changes the MDOC made remained in effect, and to determine whether the additional changes that the MDOC had promised to make were implemented.
In July 2014, the Michigan ACLU and others sent a letter to the MDOC prompted by an incident in which an inmate with mental illness nearly died, reportedly after being denied water to drink. The letter reported accounts of mentally-ill prisoners in Huron Valley being denied water and food, "hog tied" naked for many hours, left naked in their own excrement, denied showers for days, and tasered. The DOJ was also informed of this letter.
DOJ sent another team of experts to review medical and mental health care at Huron Valley the following month; Dr. Joel Dvoskin and Dr. Robert Greifinger wrote reports about the mental health care and medical care, respectively. While the DOJ’s experts didn’t directly investigate incidents reported by the ACLU, Dr. Dvoskin did recommend that MDOC ban the use of an uncomfortable form of restraint, remove women on suicide watch from the segregation unit, avoid using suicide precaution measures as punishment, and stop taking away privileges like reading and familial visits from prisoners on suicide watch without justification.
The ACLU and others wrote a followup letter in November 2014, again recounting reports of abusive and dangerous treatment of Huron Valley prisoners with mental illness, one of whom had died that same month.
Evidently, MDOC then informed the DOJ that the state would unable to complete the promised physical improvements to Huron Valley until late 2015. DOJ therefore extended the date for resolution of the investigation by another year to December 31, 2015. The DOJ also urged the MDOC to give additional consideration to the concerns expressed in Dr. Greifinger's and Dr. Dvoskin's reports, “. . .especially in light of recent events documented by the Michigan Chapter of the ACLU.”
The matter therefore remained open, and DOJ experts--Greifinger, Dvoskin, and a nursing expert named James Welch--again visited the prison in August 2015, again raising concerns but also finding significant improvements. These were described in reports, and summarized in a DOJ letter sent Sept. 29, 2015, to MDOC. MDOC had banned the use of the restraints that Dr. Dvoskin had taken issue with earlier for prisoners on suicide watch, had removed most women on suicide watch from segregation, and had limited the denial of privileges to women on suicide watch. MDOC was performing more individualized health assessments, creating more individualized treatment plans, and engaging in more constant, pleasant communication with inmates on suicide watch. Dr. Greifinger and Mr. Welch had also noticed significant improvements in the medical and mental health care being given to inmates at Huron Valley.
Some concerns remained: Dr. Dvoskin reported a lack of access to outside facilities with acute psychiatric care for Huron Valley inmates in need of acute psychiatric care, recommended that employees be provided with more than on-line training for ongoing training in suicide prevention, and recommended that MDOC do more to get jails to fill out initial psychiatric risk assessment forms. Dr. Greifinger noted that there were serious issues with medication refills. And Mr. Welch noted various problems with record-keeping, medication prescriptions, and Huron Valley’s sick call process.
As far as we know, the matter remains open in the summer of 2016.Ryan Berry - 08/23/2016