South Carolina’s prisons agency has agreed to hire more staff and change treatments for inmates with mental health illness, as part of a settlement agreement announced Wednesday that could end a class-action lawsuit against it.
The agreement could end the ongoing litigation between the state Department of Corrections and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., (P&A). The group’s lawsuit led to a 2014 ruling by a state circuit judge that South Carolina’s treatment of roughly 3,500 severely mentally ill offenders was unconstitutional.
“This is possibly an historic day for justice, one we have been seeking for a decade,” P&A executive director Gloria Prevost said in a statement. “For years we met with stone cold resistance to anything resembling fairness and justice. It was only after Governor Haley appointed Bryan Stirling SCDC director that progress was made. Our many discussions convinced us that the new leadership genuinely desired to do the right thing.”
SCDC will have four years to implement the six guidelines announced in the agreement. The agency must maintain compliance with each component for at least 18 months and follow strict timetables overseen by a panel of national experts. SCDC has also agreed to limit solitary confinement to no more than 60 days and begin using an electronic medical records system.
“This settlement marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another with changes in culture, policy and procedure at SCDC,” Stirling said in his own statement. “We will continue the movement towards rehabilitation and comprehensive care for a safer South Carolina.”
The new guidelines include:
1.Develop a systematic screening and evaluation program to accurately identify offenders in need of mental health care.
2.Develop a comprehensive mental health program that ends inappropriate segregation of offenders in mental health crisis, improves facilities and eliminates disproportionate use of excessive force and punishment by adopting national standards.
3.Increase the number and training of clinical staffing in accordance with the American Psychiatric Association.
4.Maintain accurate, complete and confidential mental health treatment records.
5.Institute psychotropic medication protocols with appropriate supervision and evaluation.
6.Initiate a program to identify, treat and supervise offenders who may be suicidal.
The agency estimates it will need $7 million more each year to pay for the additional mental health staff and $1.7 million in one-time costs to make the necessary facilities upgrades.