A judge issued a ruling Wednesday against the S.C. Department of Corrections in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the state’s 3,500 seriously mentally ill inmates, finding that the agency’s treatment of those prisoners had violated “the cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the state constitution.
Calling it “far above all others the most troubling” case he’d seen in 14 years of presiding over the 5th Circuit Court, Judge Michael Baxley found the Department of Corrections’ mental health program “inherently flawed and systemically deficient in all major areas” and noted that a lack of basic mental health care had led to death in some cases.
National experts and more than 10 inmates testified in the five-week trial, detailing harsh treatment that included long periods in restraints, excessive use of pepper spray and long-term solitary confinement.
Though damning, Baxley’s ruling found the department’s failings to be not “by design but instead by default,” attributable mostly to insufficient funding, and ordered it to submit a plan to correct its constitutional violations within six months.
The areas Baxley ordered addressed included developing screening and mental health treatment programs, hiring an adequate number of qualified mental health professionals, maintaining treatment records, administering psychotropic medication with appropriate supervision and evaluations, and a suicide prevention program.
The lawsuit — initiated by Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. — did not seek financial damages but asked the court to compel the Department of Corrections to provide adequate mental health care for its wards.
“We are greatly pleased with the outcome and call on the Department of Corrections and the Legislature to take steps immediately toward meaningful reform," said Gloria Prevost, P&A’s executive director. “As the judge pointed out, the evidence is overwhelming that the Department of Corrections has known for over a decade that its system exposes seriously mentally ill inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm. Inmates with serious mental health illnesses are dying needlessly and treated inhumanely.”
Joy Jay, executive director of Mental Health of America for South Carolina who served as guardian for the prisoners who offered testimony, said, “This ruling reinforces the evidence that the S.C. Department of Corrections is in crisis and has been in crisis for more than a decade as several studies have shown. People are dying needlessly in our prisons because of poor treatment. The public should also view this as a public safety issue in that inmates with serious mental health issues who receive no or very abusive treatment will return to their communities worse than when they went in.”
Lawyers for the Department of Corrections did not contest the charges against the agency but instead argued for the case to be dismissed on numerous legal grounds, including the claim that it should not be held liable when its funding is controlled by the General Assembly.
The Department of Corrections issued a statement late Wednesday saying that it intends to appeal Baxley's ruling.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com