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HELENA (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is denying state corrections officials' claims that the organization endorsed behavior management plans for inmates that the Montana Supreme Court has condemned as inhumane.

The ACLU has never reviewed the plans — called BMPs — that Montana State Prison authorities use to control disruptive conduct of inmates, Eric Balaban, an attorney with the organization's National Prison Project in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday.

"We never reached a conclusion in regard to the BMPs," said Balaban, whose organization and the U.S. Justice Department sued the state over medical conditions and policies at the prison in the aftermath of a deadly 1991 riot, he said.

The management plans involve locking troublesome inmates in isolation cells, sometimes for days or weeks, without running water, clothes, bedding or warm food.

The department defended use of the plans in response to the state Supreme Court's ruling last month that found the techniques used on a mentally ill inmate were unconstitutional.

Diana Koch, chief attorney for the agency, said the plans were developed "with the help and concurrence of the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice."

Joe Williams, who heads the centralized services office in the Corrections Department, said experts assigned to review the prison's efforts to comply with a settlement agreement in the suit endorsed the BMPs.

He pointed to a July 1999 report by four psychiatrists, who were chosen by the ACLU and Justice Department. They concluded in their report that the "use of behavior management plans appears to be appropriate for the identified problematic behaviors."

One of the doctors, Mary West, encouraged the prison's mental health staff to use the BMPs "as much as you possibly can" and said the policy will help the correctional staff work more closely with mental health staff.

Balaban said the views of the psychiatrists did not reflect that of ACLU.

"They don't work for us," he said. "I reviewed the plans as written. The ACLU doesn't agree with their findings."

Balaban said the terms of the settlement agreement allowed either side to dispute the findings of the experts. He noted the panel of doctors never reviewed or endorsed application of the behavior management tools to inmate Mark Walker, the subject of the court ruling.

"The experts never endorsed stripping a man who is mentally ill for weeks at a time," Balaban said. "The experts didn't endorse allowing Mr. Walker to deteriorate (mentally) to the point of having dozens of disciplinary reports that are seemingly related to his mental illness."

Bill Maddox, an attorney representing the Justice Department in the suit, declined to comment on what he called an "ongoing investigation" in regard to state compliance with the settlement agreement.

Warden Mike Mahoney said Tuesday he has never heard any ACLU concerns raised over BMPs during meetings regarding medical care at the state prison.

"I cannot recall a single instance where they have made any kind of derogatory reference to our utilization of the BMP in any of the briefings we had," he said.

In a related development, Mahoney said the prison has not abandoned use of behavior management tools that were challenged in Supreme Court case.

For inmates not diagnosed with a mental illness, authorities continue to use isolation cells and withhold items such as clothing and running water to discourage misbehavior and ensure they hurt no one.

"I've got limited resources as to what I can do with people in a locked-up environment," he said. "I have an obligation to make sure someone is not put into a position to have the means to hurt themselves or others."

Prison officials still meet with mental health staff to discuss how to handle disruptive behavior on a case-by-case basis, Mahoney said.

However, since the Supreme Court decision, those inmates with a mental illness are more apt to end up in the prison infirmary than in an isolation cell, he said.

Mahoney said he doesn't read the court decision as forbidding use of all behavior management tools in every instance.

"On a case-by-case basis, if we deem the inmate's conduct is a risk to himself and others, and ultimately to the safety of the institution, the Supreme Court is indicating I should still have some latitude," he said.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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