ACLU suit claims Alaska inmate was unlawfully given psychotropic medication against his will

Mark Andrews has been in state custody since 2001, and currently is incarcerated at the Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward
ACLU suit claims Alaska inmate was unlawfully given psychotropic medication against his will
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 6:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Alaska filed a lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Corrections, citing “an unlawful involuntary medication policy” on behalf of Mark Andrews, an inmate in the DOC system at Spring Creek Correctional facility in Seward.

Andrews has been in the custody of the DOC since 2001.

The suit names DOC Commissioner-designee Jennifer Winkelman, DOC Chief Medical Officer Robert Lawrence, and Superintendent of the Spring Creek Correctional Center James Milburn as the defendants in the case.

“This complaint and motion relates to an ongoing matter being handled by the Department of Law,” a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law wrote when asked for a comment on the lawsuit. “The assigned attorney has not yet received these documents from the opposing attorney in that case. When she does, she will respond in the time provided by court rule.”

“For at least five years, Mr. Andrews lost the freedom of his own mind, emotions, and thoughts,” said ACLU of Alaska attorney Melody Vidmar in a news release Wednesday announcing the suit. “He was held down. He was handcuffed. And over-and-over again, DOC forcibly injected him with psychotropic medication that can have long-lasting detrimental side effects. All of this was done without the protection of his fundamental right to due process.”

Psychotropic medications are substances that affect how the brain functions and alter mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The suit says that some inmates take these drugs willingly, and for those who do not, consent is not mandatory for continued administration.

“Under Alaska law, forced psychotropic medication should be a last resort and only done in narrow circumstances, such as when an incarcerated patient presents an imminent harm to themselves or others,” the suit said.

Andrews took the psychotropic medication of his own free will until 2018, when he felt he no longer needed it, the suit said. The DOC policy at the time stated that a “due process hearing” was required before involuntary medication administration began, but Andrews never got a hearing nor knew that he was entitled to an opportunity to advocate for himself, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that when Andrews’ case received a hearing for the first time in 2022, neither of his attorneys were notified and was not allowed to review any of the evidence against him.

The suit also states that the DOC policies regarding involuntary medication violated the “most basic liberties” of prisoners, and in the case of Andrews, subjected him to “mind-altering” and psychotropic medications without his consent for five years.

According to the lawsuit, the DOC handcuffed and physically restrained Andrews to administer the medication by injection until Andrews agreed to take the medicine orally to avoid further use of or threats of the needle.

The primary medications that Andrews receives from the DOC are citalopram, aripiprazole, olanzapine, and ziprasidone, but the ACLU is working to confirm if more drugs were involved since 2013, when Andrews says he was first forcibly medicated.

“DOC won’t even release his medical records to us prior to 2017, even though he has been in custody since 2001, and suffered for much of that time from mental illness. This blatant disregard for Mr. Andrew’s constitutional right to procedural due process is not unique to him,” suggesting Andrews’ case is indicative of a larger, systemic crisis in Alaska prison system,” Vidmar said. “DOC’s involuntary medication policy, unfortunately, allows such behavior for others similarly situated as well.”

Andrews is serving a 99-year sentence, and from 2001-2008, reportedly engaged in self-harm behaviors, cutting himself. CourtView documents indicate he was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder and other serious charges nearly two decades ago.

“(He) has access to a mental health professional in the form of mental health clinician on-staff, but he does not have access to any sort of external mental health care. When we’ve tried to get him externally evaluated for a complete medical exam including mental health, we have run into roadblocks with DOC every step of the way, even when their own counsel has agreed with us and tried to get that scheduled,” Vidmar said, on whether Andrews and other inmates have access to mental health experts and counseling.

Prison Project and Communications Director Megan Edge previously worked for the DOC and spoke about the conditions Andrews and other inmates in need of mental health treatment endured daily.

“Mental health care inside the Department of Corrections is extremely limited. Mental health care inside of Department of Corrections essentially looks like solitary confinement. At Spring Creek, that is a cell with bars on the outside of it,” Edge said.

The ACLU suit comes at a time when the Alaska DOC system is under scrutiny. In 2022, Alaska inmate deaths reached a record high over the last two decades, catching the attention of the nonprofit’s National Prison Project, frequently involved in ACLU litigation regarding prison conditions and civil liberties cases for inmates.

The ACLU describes the purpose of the project as a line of defense against encroachment on prisoners’ rights.

“The National Prison Project is dedicated to ensuring that our nation’s prisons, jails, and detention centers comply with the Constitution, domestic law, and human rights principles,” according to the project’s website.

“The Alaska Prison project receives about fifty percent of its intakes from individuals suffering from the Department of Corrections’ health care practices,” Edge said.