It is Scission's Prison Friday edition and today we turn to the state of South Carolina.
On Wednesday, this week, a state judge ruled that the treatment given mentally ill prison inmates in that state is so awful that it is unconstitutional and threatens the mental health of those inmates.
...found that evidence in the case showed that for more than 10 years, the Department of Corrections has known “its mental health program is systemically deficient and exposes seriously mentally ill inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.”
Actually its worth as Truthout writes:
Corrections officials have been on notice about these violations for almost 15 years. In 1999, a consultant hired to assess the system’s mental health system described it as in “profound crisis.” In 2000, a legislative committee concluded that the prison provided inadequate treatment and often left inmates with mental illness “worse off than when they entered.” Reports describing the mental health treatment in prisons as dire continued virtually every year since, and have been met with only “half-hearted indifference...”
Jerome Laudman, a schizophrenic, intellectually disabled inmate in South Carolina, was placed in solitary confinement, although he was neither aggressive nor threatening. During his transfer to the “Lee Supermax” facility, he was sprayed with chemical munitions and physically abused by a correctional officer. Although the transfer should have been recorded, the videotape turned up blank. While Laudman was confined naked in his cell, officers observed that Laudman had stopped eating and taking his medication, and appeared sick and weak. They did not report it. A week later, he was found laying in his own feces with 15-20 trays of molding food in his cell, vomiting. Nurses and an officer refused to retrieve his body. When two inmates were eventually sent to remove him, he was transferred unconscious to a hospital, where he died of a heart-attack.
Other plaintiffs in the case were held naked in restraint chairs for hours at a time without treatment of their injuries, left to urinate in place and forced to stay in a painful “crucifix” position for hours. In one instance, blood pooled beneath an inmate held in a restraint; in another, an inmate’s intestine was protruding from his abdomen as officers tightened restraints surrounding the wound. One inmate was restrained with his arms in a twisted position, soaked in water, and then left outside on a December night.
A corrections expert who has assessed thousands of uses of pepper spray testified that he had never seen pepper spray gas be so frequently misused by a corrections officers. Evidence revealed countless cover-ups of these instances, with false call logs and failure to check on suicidal inmates leading to several deaths. In one instance, an inmate’s aunt called to warn of a “goodbye letter,” but officers did not check on the inmate until two days later, when they found him dead in his cell from a drug overdose. Overall, Baxter found, these incidents were “unreported, uninvestigated, and unmanaged.”
This treatment in cells described as “extremely cold and inordinately filthy, often with the blood and feces of previous occupants smeared on the floor and walls,” was particularly egregious because it targeted those with serious mental illness, who, as in prisons around the country, are vastly over-represented in the prison population. Any solitary confinement of mentally ill inmates at all has been deemed unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment by several federal courts and the Department of Justice. But rather than avoiding solitary confinement for the mentally ill, corrections officials subjected them to confinement at rates 2.5 times greater than that of the general population, and for significantly longer periods of time. One plaintiff in the case was held for 2,565 consecutive days.
It gets worse.
The good people of South Carolina were aware of all this and did nothing. No one seemed to care.
Of course, South Carolina is not alone in the abuse of mentally ill prisoners. As investigation by ProPublica released last summer told how mentally ill inmates in jails and prisons across the country are routinely placed in solitary confinement.
In California a law suit revealed recently that mentally ill patients were routinely forced from their cells through the repeated use of pepper spray.
In Pennsylvania, David Hickton, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of that state discussing a case there said, “The findings in this case are disturbing and expose a serious disregard for the health and safety of prisoners with serious mental illness.” In that case the Department of Justice found, “The willingness of officers to use additional force on immobilized prisoners by, for example, tasering them, suggests that the restraints and the other force tools used on the prisoners were employed to punish and cause pain, not to prevent imminent harm. The report further stated In a 26-month span, 125 prisoners listed as being mentally ill by the prison spent 90 or more days in isolation — in a cell for 22 or more hours per day — with 26 of those spending a year or more, according to the letter. The isolation cells measure about 10-ft. by 10-ft and seldom have windows.
At New York Rikers Island an independent review found that a
When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina's Prisons
The evidence is overwhelming that SCDC (South Carolina Department of Corrections) has known for over a decade that its system exposes seriously mentally ill inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.In 1999, SCDC retained Dr. Patterson (who became the Plaintiffs’ expert in Judge Baxley’s case), through a grant, to inspect its mental health program. His report, issued in 2000, characterized the program as being in a state of “profound crisis.”In October 2000, a Joint Legislative Proviso Committee report concluded that “inmates with mental illness are not receiving adequate treatment… and oftentimes leave prisons worse off than when they entered."In April 2003, a South Carolina Task Force whose members included three former SCDC Directors issued a report that concluded Gilliam Psychiatric Facility was “clearly inadequate."In May 2003, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health issued a report on SCDC’s mental health program, noting “[t]he lack of psychiatric coverage has resulted in a critical situation, with extremes of poor care, inhumane treatment, and dangerousness…”In September 2003, SCDC Director Jon Ozmint, in a application for technical assistance, stated that “[t]he current plight of persons with mental illness at SCDC is at a crisis level.”In June 2005, the Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this case, alleging constitutional deficiencies in SCDC’s program.From June 2006-2010 Plaintiffs’ experts issued eight site inspection reports criticizing conditions in SCDC facilities.In October 2007, SCDC psychiatrist Dr. Michael Kirby wrote a letter to his supervisor noting several serious problems with SCDC’s mental health system…In January 2010, a United State Department of Justice report was highly critical of SCDC’s medication management and administration practices.
First, the mental health program at SCDC is severely understaffed, particularly with respect to mental health professionals, to such a degree as to impede the proper administration of mental health services….Second, seriously mentally ill inmates are exposed to a disproportionate use of force and segregation (solitary confinement) when compared with non-mentally ill inmates…Third, mental health services at SCDC lack a sufficiently systematic program that maintains accurate and complete treatment records to chart overall treatment, progress, or regression of inmates with serious mental illness.Fourth, SCDC’s screening and evaluation process is ineffective in identifying inmates with serious mental illness and in providing those it does identify with timely treatment.Fifth, SCDC’s administration of psychotropic medications is inadequately supervised and evaluated.Sixth, SCDC’s current policies and practices concerning suicide prevention and crisis intervention are inadequate and have resulted in the unnecessary loss of life among seriously mentally ill inmates.
We are now eight years into this litigation. Rather than accept the obvious at some point and come forward in a meaningful way to try and improve its mental health system, Defendants have fought this case tooth and nail—on the facts, on the law, on the constitutional issues, portraying itself as beleaguered by the burdensomeness of Plaintiffs' discovery, and generally harrumphed by the invasive nature of Plaintiffs’ counsels’ tactics and strategies.This Court has spent dozens of hours in hearings and conferences in an effort to resolve discovery disputes, most of which involved delay, missed deadlines, and recalcitrance on the part of the Defendants.
* Chaired by none other than Senator Mike Fair, the lawmaker who said Wednesday he did not know "we had a problem with any particular aspect of mistreating or not treating inmates." I sought comment from Senator Fair on Thursday. He has not responded. Nor has anyone from Governor Nikki Haley's office.