Research by an advocacy group found that inmates with mental illness in South Carolina’s prisons receive inadequate care and “spend an inordinate amount of time in solitary confinement.” The group has sued the state’s Corrections Department in a case that went to court this week. The Associated Press reports:
A Columbia-based advocacy group that sued South Carolina’s prisons agency over the care of mentally ill inmates is finally getting its day in court. Circuit Court Judge Michael Baxley is expected to begin hearing arguments Monday in the case that accuses the Corrections Department of subjecting mentally ill inmates to cruel and unusual punishment.
Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities sued the agency in 2005, saying that mentally ill inmates were severely punished for disciplinary infractions and were not given enough access to psychiatric care.
The advocacy group sued along with four mentally ill South Carolina inmates. One man, according to court papers, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and “believes that at night, while he is sleeping, doctors come into his cell and perform surgery on him.” Instead of being placed at the prison system’s sole psychiatric hospital, attorneys for the group wrote, the man “has lived for most of the last sixteen years in an SCDC lock-up unit,” where he is kept alone in a cell nearly 24 hours a day and sees a counselor only once a month.
Protection and Advocacy said it sued on behalf of all of South Carolina’s mentally ill inmates, a number the group estimated is as many as 4,400, or about 19 percent of the state’s inmate population. Those inmates, according to the group, spend an inordinate amount of time in solitary confinement when compared to other inmates. Studying disciplinary records for 110 mentally ill inmates, the group said nearly all of them — 98 percent — spent more than a year in solitary confinement, while 20 percent were in solitary for more than five years.
Attorneys for the South Carolina Corrections Department, according to the AP, have argued that “all new inmates are screened for mental health issues within 30 days of arriving at the state’s prisons,” and “denied that mentally ill inmates were punished any differently than other prisoners. Even when in solitary confinement, the agency’s attorneys wrote, inmates receive visits from mental health specialists.”
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