A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Montana prisoner rights complaint, reviving the case and bumping the original judge.
The complaint alleges the Montana State Prison fails to provide adequate mental health care and puts prisoners in conditions, like solitary confinement, that exacerbate mental health problems.
The Montana Department of Corrections violated the constitutional rights of nine inmates, the plaintiffs allege, through imposing cruel and unusual punishment.
According to the lawsuit, that includes 24-hour isolation and cells with no toilet or running water.
ACLU of Montana and Disability Rights Montana filed the complaint in federal court in 2015 but it was soon dismissed. The plaintiffs then appealed.
In the Friday order, an appellate panel reversed U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon’s decision to dismiss the case. It remanded the case and assigned a new judge.
The three-judge panel with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also chastised Haddon for the dismissal.
“The panel noted that the district court had mistaken this case for another case brought by plaintiff against a different defendant and upon being advised of its mistake, had declined to revisit its decision, thereby letting an obviously incorrect decision stand,” the ruling read.
The ACLU and Disability Rights Montana cheered the ruling in a press release, with the ACLU calling on the state to end its "barbaric" practices inside the prison.
The Department of Corrections first declined to comment and later issued a statement saying it recognized the need to improve conditions for mentally ill inmates.
"The department and its leadership have worked in good faith with stakeholders — including the advocacy groups pursuing this case — to update its housing policy for mentally ill inmates under recently passed legislation," read an emailed statement. "The department believes that these collaborative approaches will better serve inmates and the public than costly, protracted litigation."