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Judge: Overhaul Corrections Mental Health Policies

11:07 PM, Jan 8, 2014   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- A judge has ordered the South Carolina Department of Corrections to do a major overhaul of its mental health lawsuit policies.

"It's extremely upsetting to see people treated in such an inhumane manner," The Protection and Advocacy For People With Disabilities Executive Director Gloria Prevost said.

A circuit court judge is saying he agrees with serious allegations made against the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

He said there were "significant" and "longstanding" problems with the agency's mental health policies, that he said may have even led to deaths.

Prevost said there needs to be a culture change.

"It just seems that there's a system in place that does not understand the need for treatment for people with serious mental illness, even those who've committed crimes," she said.

Prevost's organization filed a class action lawsuit against the SCDC in 2005, that said the agency didn't do all it could to approximately 3,500 mentally ill inmates safe.

"Many of the suicides, our experts found, were capable of being predicted and prevented," Attorney Stuart Andrews said.

Andrews was one of the many lawyers who took on the case.

They began looking into reports as early as 2002.

"Through those conversations and review of the records that the program was severely understaffed and that individuals who had particular needs just weren't being provided care," he said.

Judge Michael Baxley ruled the agency must make significant changes to the mental health system, including having a sufficient staff and identifying inmates in need of mental health care.

Prevost and Andrews believe it's up to lawmakers to aid in the effort.

"We're aware of it, we've heard about it, we're going to get together with our attorneys and see what it means, but we'll follow through on that accordingly," Gov. Nikki Haley said.

The Department of Corrections issued a statement saying they plan to appeal the decision.

"Regardless of a crime someone has committed the person is still a human being," Prevost said.

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