Addressing the abominable conditions at Alvin S. Glenn

Attorney Stuart Andrews speaks at the press event Thursday.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, y’all. Yeah, I know you haven’t seen a post in awhile. I’ve just been busy. A lot of stuff going on, some of it quite important. I thought I’d post an example. This is about a news story I’ve been helping an ADCO client with this week.

Just wanted to make sure you’ve seen the coverage of the lawsuit about the brutal conditions for detainees with disabilities (and for everyone else, although this legal action comes at it from this urgent perspective) at the Richland County jail.

Here’s an excerpt from The State’s story by Travis Bland, “Richland jail is ‘dangerous, inhumane’ in treatment of people with mental illness: lawsuit:”

Locked up in ‘moldy, filthy, infested’ cells, bitten by rats, and strapped to chairs so long they are ‘forced to urinate on themselves.’

These are some of the “dangerous, inhumane” ways people with mental illness detained at the Richland County jail have been treated, according to an extensive lawsuit filed Thursday morning.

Richland County is being sued in federal court by Disability Rights South Carolina, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. Attorneys Stuart Andrews, Nekki Shutt and Sarah J. M. Cox of the Burnett Shutt & McDaniel law firm are representing Disability Rights SC.

Detainees with mental illnesses at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center suffer cruel punishment and restraints; don’t get needed medication; aren’t properly supervised, even when on suicide watch, and are subjected to a heightened risk of harm because of “dangerously low staff levels,” the suit says. The lawsuit asks that the federal court take over the jail and oversee that Richland County implement fixes…

And this is from the version by Mike Fitts at the Post and Courier, “Mentally ill detainees face brutal conditions in Richland County jail, lawsuit alleges:”

COLUMBIA — Richland County’s jail subjects detainees with mental illnesses to brutal conditions including misuse of restraint chairs, shower stalls being used as cells and unsupervised solitary confinement, a federal lawsuit filed April 28 alleges.

The lawsuit, the latest in a series of issues at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, has been filed to get the county to provide better care, not for financial gain, attorneys in the case said.

The special jail section where detainees with mental illnesses are kept at the jail is laden with mold, pests and standing water, thanks to broken plumbing, the attorneys allege….

Here is the full lawsuit as filed Thursday, and here is a press release about it. You can view video of the presser here. If you look at it, I call your attention in particular to what attorneys Stuart Andrews and Sarah J.M. Cox have to say. They add some details you might miss in the coverage, details that illuminate just how bad things are. Please listen in particular to Sarah’s description of how people who are on “suicide watch” are treated in ways that would make anyone, mentally ill or not, feel suicidal.

I call your attention to the fact that, as Mike notes, no one’s looking for money here. They’re looking for change. Stuart made that clear, emphasizing the plaintiffs — Disability Rights South Carolina — would like very much for the county to work with them to address these problems. Meanwhile, the complaint asks the federal court to assume jurisdiction and require that the problems be addressed.

How am I involved in this? A couple of ways. Burnette Shutt & McDaniel law firm is a client of ADCO. Beyond that, I have a very personal interest. My daughter is a public defender who spends a great deal of time visiting her clients in the jail. This is a constant worry for us, knowing what conditions are like there.

A number of things to keep in mind:

  • People in jail — as opposed to prison — have generally not been convicted of any crime.
  • People with mental illness are often there simply because they are mentally ill, and authorities have nowhere else to put them. (At this point we could go off on a long side discussion about deinstitutionalization and related issues, but for the moment I’m trying to stay on the subject of the jail.)
  • The jail is overcrowded, and alarmingly understaffed. As the lawsuit states, “It is not uncommon for a single frontline security officer to be directly responsible at one time for supervision of up to four housing units consisting of more than 150-200 detainees.”
  • People on suicide watch are not being watched. Instead, there are being subjected to forms of confinement that greatly increase their distress. But as Sarah noted, not sufficiently constrained to reliably prevent them from harming themselves. Which, you know, is why they’re supposed to be watched.

Anyway, I’m very glad Disability Rights and the folks at Burnette Shutt have taken this action, and I fervently hope it leads to real improvement.

15 thoughts on “Addressing the abominable conditions at Alvin S. Glenn

  1. Barry

    This is awful for sure.

    Just a response to this “People in jail — as opposed to prison — have generally not been convicted of any crime.”

    I know what you are saying here but even in prison, people should not be having to urinate on themselves. That’s unbelievable.

  2. Ken

    “Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee … in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
    Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

    And so where have they been, the Christians in this oh-so-Christian state?

    1. Doug Ross

      What, “pray” tell would Christians be able to do to resolve this issue with government incompetence? It’s funny how you would like them to help (not really) but only if you can also mock them at the same time.

      Why don’t all the heathens collect some money to open up care homes for those in need? What’s stopping you from taking over the responsibility you want to push onto “Christians” (i.e. taxpayers)? Yeah, I know, just like the schools (funded by Christians who pay extra to send their kids to private schools), your solution will be to install Democrats across the entire state government, raise taxes on those who already shoulder most of the load, and then watch in disbelief as all that extra spending doesn’t fix anything.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        In the midst of that brief diatribe, I saw one interesting thing: “‘Christians’ (i.e. taxpayers)?”

        So are YOU equating the two, or are you suggesting that Ken is equating the two?

        1. Doug Ross

          Well, since he thinks Christians are the responsible for fixing the problem and the only way to fix it is to spend more money, he must think Christians are who will pay for it.

          It’s an unfixable problem because it is a government “solution”. Maybe turn it over to churches and cut taxes?

          1. Barry

            I’m all for “turning it over to the churches” but I don’t think most churches are trusted enough- certainly not more than government is these days. That’s not saying much, but it’s saying a lot.

            You must mean, turn it over to the really, really large churches because small churches these days are often incapable of running their own Vacation Bible Schools because they can’t get enough help. That’s why many of them over the last decade or so no longer have even offer them. In fact, even in states like South Carolina, many churches are closing their doors. (Have you seen what’s become of the old Rosewood Baptist these days).

            It seems to me, reading as much as I do, that churches are having more than enough of their own internal problems these days.

            I am not sure why anyone would trust or rely on them to tackle most any issue outside their doors.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t know if “hypocrites” is the word. Hypocrisy implies a sort of intention. You have to profess belief in something while privately holding contrary positions, or acting in contrary ways. Right? Maybe not. It’s a slippery concept, the way we so often see it invoked.

          I really think the problem is that so many of these people don’t know what Christianity is. They embrace the label because they think it confirms them in some social position that they view as desirable. But they don’t get it. Not that any of us truly do — it’s kind of above our pay grade. But these folks often don’t seem to get the basics. Like the idea that atheist Douglas Adams grasped so readily. I quote it often. He said Jesus was known for (and killed for) “saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.”

          Really, if you get that you get a very large portion of it. A lot of people who are very loud about being “Christian” don’t get that, much less the other parts…

          1. Ken

            On the matter of intent:
            That’s a rather too legalistic view, I think.
            A “Christian,” put in simplest terms, is someone who places value in and seeks to in some way apply the teachings of Jesus. Part of those teachings – a core element, in fact — is contained in the quote cited above. How “the least of these” are treated is set down as a benchmark for those who profess to be Christians. Mens rea or deliberation is not a precondition for rendering a moral judgment on those who ignore or fail to take seriously the teachings of their faith’s founder. Yes, we are of course aware of how hard it can be to apply those teachings in a non-transcendent world. But just because hypocrisy is part of our everyday doesn’t make it meaningless.

            1. Doug Ross

              You may be surprised to learn that many Christians live their faith in personal terms but don’t believe the government is effective at doing the same. Too much evidence to the contrary.

      2. Ken

        The comment also reminds me of a snatch of conversation I heard while walking this past weekend:

        “Biden wants to send billions to Ukraine. We ain’t got billions!”

        Some people are constantly blinded – not by the light but by the $$ signs.

        1. Doug Ross

          I’m all for any improvements to government services that don’t start with raising taxes. Prioritize the revenue that is collected now and hold people accountable in government jobs who don’t perform. We raised the gas tax and the penny tax for roads and what did we get? More of the same incompetence.

          1. Doug Ross

            How about this? Legalize marijuana and tax the sales and then you a) reduce the resources needed for law enforcement of these “crimes” and b) generate revenue that can be used to address the issues with incarceration for the mentally ill and disabled.

            Too simple. Instead, we have moronic legislators who think that creating very strict medical marijuana legalization is somehow a major step — and law enforcement advocates who want that ability to pull over young black males to search their cars “cuz we smell some wacky tobacky”.. and moral police who want to tell people what they can or cannot do with their own personal choices on what to put in their bodies.


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