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.