SC 'Near Bottom' in Treatment of Mentally Ill Inmates

COLUMBIA — A national report ranks South Carolina "near the bottom" in treatment of mentally ill inmates.

The report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff's Association found the state ranked near bottom in the availability of public psychiatric beds, efforts to divert mentally ill from imprisonment, per capita spending on mental health "and almost every other measure of treatment for mentally ill individuals."

The 190-page report comes about three months after a South Carolina circuit judge issued a 45-page order finding the state's prison system violated the constitutional rights of inmates with serious mental illness, in some cases resulting in death.

The state disagrees and unsuccessfully asked Judge Michael Baxley to change his order, which directed the prison system to develop a plan for improving its handling of inmates with mental illness within six months.

Lawyers representing the prison system and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that resulted in Baxley's order are currently in mediation talks concerning possible solutions.

The Treatment Advocacy report released Thursday details the problems mentally ill prisoners in state and local jails have, calling them the new "asylums" in the nation because they hold 10 times the number of mentally ill than in state mental facilities.

In South Carolina, the state's prison system estimates about 12 percent of the system's 23,000 inmates are mentally ill but Baxley said he believes the number is closer to 17 percent.


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