According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, state corrections officials have been forcing a man serving prison time in Seward to take psychotropic medications against his will for years, well beyond their legal authority and egregiously violating his rights.
The civil rights organization sued the Alaska Department of Corrections on Wednesday on behalf of 47-year-old Mark Andrews. Andrews is serving a 99-year sentence at Spring Creek Correctional Center for a 2001 murder and robbery in Nenana.
The ACLU is asking the court for two main things: First, due process to let Andrews properly argue against being medicated. And second, to strike down the corrections policy on involuntary medication as unconstitutional, which could affect many people in state custody with mental illness.
During a press conference about the lawsuit on Wednesday, ACLU staff attorney Melody Vidmar described her client’s experience.
“Over the course of the last five years, Mr. Andrews has been held down, handcuffed and repeatedly and involuntarily injected with psychotropic medication, which can have devastating effects on his physical health and his cognitive capacity,” she said.
The ACLU complaint provides more detail. It says Andrews, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, has chronic pain in his stomach, intestines and chest bad enough to keep him bed-ridden at times. These are all known side effects of the drugs.
He’s been on these medications voluntarily since about 2013, then involuntarily since 2018. Corrections policy is supposed to limit involuntary medication to emergency, last-resort situations when there is imminent danger.
According to the ACLU, Andrews has not been written up for aggressive behavior since about 2018, and had no serious altercations with others in custody since 2011.
Corrections policies lay out an internal hearing process to review involuntary medication cases. But the ACLU says that process is deeply flawed, and Andrews didn’t have any opportunity to participate in one until several years had passed.
“And when DOC finally afforded him a closed door, internal hearing last fall, the department conducted the procedure so haphazardly, it blatantly denied his constitutional right to procedural due process,” Vidmar said.
Department of Law spokesperson Patty Sullivan said in an email that one of its attorneys will respond through the court process.
ACLU Alaska Prison Project Director Megan Edge said concerns about health care in the prison system are widespread. She said about half of the hundreds of contacts she gets each month from people in prison are about health care. She said about one in seven people in the prison population have a severe and persistent mental illness.
The ACLU has a separate lawsuit pending against the Department of Corrections it announced last month. That case has to do with some people in corrections custody being denied access to programs and services for transitioning back to life outside of prison.