March 9, 2012: Today, SCDC offered testimony from Clinical Correctional Counselor Paul Dennis, Lead Counselor for the Department of Corrections’ Lee Correctional Institution. Mr. Dennis testified regarding his interactions with inmates in providing mental health services. As a clinical correctional counselor, Dennis must review disciplinary charges against those inmates on his caseload and determine whether the inmate is mentally capable of being held accountable for his actions. SCDC policy provides that a mentally ill inmate may be found guilty but not accountable for disciplinary infractions. Mr. Dennis recalled the last time he made such a recommendation was about five years ago.
He testified he does not have time now to hold group therapy sessions, but that he had been conducting eight groups per month. He suggested that he has observed inmates in group therapy who were handcuffed and in belly chains, and that they appeared to be uncomfortable.
Dennis admitted that audits of his own mental health case load noted deficiencies, professing that those audits have in fact made him a better counselor by clarifying the mental health policy requirements. Specifically, Dennis explained that prior to being audited, a practice that began in 2010, he was not aware that he must see certain inmates at least every thirty days. He explained that he previously thought the policy to mean monthly, meaning that he only had to visit his inmates once each month, regardless whether one visit was at the beginning of one month and the end of the next, potentially exceeding 30 days.
According to Dennis, of the four counselors currently at Lee, including himself, none are licensed, and only one has a master’s degree. He suggested that the number of mentally ill on the counselors' caseloads were such that even if all counselors held a full load of group therapy sessions, it still would be insufficient to accommodate the numbers of inmates who need to attend group.
Dennis was also asked about Medication Administration Records, which counselors are required to monitor. He testified that as long as inmates take some of their prescribed medications within a three-day period, then they are considered medication compliant. He suggested that in that situation the psychiatrists consider it okay because the inmate is as least getting some of the medication into his system, that taking some is better than taking none. Such a suggestion is completely contradictory to all testimony presented so far in this case.
Court was adjourned until Monday, March 12, 2012, at 9 a.m.
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March 8, 2012: Testimony began today with the examination of Dr. Beverly Wood, Chief Psychiatrist for the S.C. Dept. of Corrections. Dr. Wood primarily testified regarding the efforts by SCDC to hire psychiatrists and the difficult time they have had filling psychiatrist vacancies.
She was asked how she might learn that an inmate does not have a sufficient supply of necessary medications. She, the primary prescribing psychiatrist for the department, testified that she learns such information 1) from the inmate; 2) from the inmate’s family; 3) from an SCDC nurse; or 4) from the inmate’s counselor; she provided them in that order.
Major Carol Gardner, Administrative Major for the SCDC Division of Training and Staff Development, testified for the defense.
Gardner testified that although she is generally familiar with the training offered, she does not know the lesson plans on a detailed level.
Regarding the use of force on inmates, Gardner testified that SCDC “teaches officers to use conflict resolution skills first, and reserve use of force for occasions where those skills do not resolve the problem, and then use only the minimum necessary amount of force.” Although her testimony is in line with written agency policy, introduced earlier in the trial, it is in direct conflict with testimony heard earlier in the trial about actual practices, in which pepper spray is used as a primary option in large quantities.
Gardner confirmed that the Mental Health training offered at an agency level is limited and those classes that are offered have been implemented only recently. She also testified that the suicide prevention course offered during basic training has been expanded from two to three hours in order to accommodate the inclusion of a new video segment related to dealing with mentally ill inmates. Gardner could not say how that video will be utilized in future training.
Connie Riley, SCDC Branch Chief for Recruiting, was called to testify regarding SCDC hiring practices, recruiting efforts, and recent hires. She suggested that a new psychiatrist was just hired on March 2, and that five candidates have been approved to fill counselor positions, but her department was waiting on further action from mental health or other departments.
Riley discussed her staff and their efforts to recruit correctional officers and other non-uniformed staff, including trips to job fairs, schools, etc., but testified that when it comes to mental health staff, her only role is to post the positions and process the selections. She could not say whether the mental health department utilizes similar recruiting practices.
Judge Baxley asked the witness to provide an estimate regarding the general wait time for pending offers to candidates who have been identified as potential hires. Riley estimated the average time to be two to four weeks.
The trial resumes Friday at 9 a.m.
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March 7, 2012: The trial began today with Defendants calling Ms. Renee Williams, a counselor and supervisor over SCDC's reception and evaluation center. On direct, Ms. Williams testified regarding the reception and evaluation process, including the mental health evaluations inmates receive upon arriving at SCDC. On cross examination, Ms. Williams admitted that she and others under her charge have failed mental health services audits because, among other issues, inmates were being transferred without receiving a mental health evaluation.
Ms. Pamela Whitley was then re-called to the stand for cross examination. During her testimony, Whitley expressed her belief that the reason SCDC is unable to fill mental health counselor vacancies is because SCDC does not offer salaries to make those positions competitive with other State agencies.
Whitley acknowledged that she was aware of two inmate suicides, which occurred at Lee and Lieber correctional institutions within the past six weeks.
Whitley was asked about SCDC policies and procedures related to suicide. The policy requires the SCDC Suicide Committee to meet within 15 days after a suicide occurs. Whitley admitted that although the most recent suicides occurred more than 15 days ago, no committee has met to review these deaths. When asked if the committee has ever complied with this policy, Whitley conceded that she did not know.
Whitley was also questioned about changes to the suicide policy, to which she testified that the previous option for continuous observation of an at-risk inmate was removed from policy in March 2010, leaving only the requirement that a 15 minute observation be conducted.
Regarding the use of alternate cells for CI, Whitley stated that she learned of incidents where inmates were placed in showers or interview booths at Lieber the responsible parties were terminated, but she did not investigate the use of these locations further because there were no logs kept that would show alternate cell usage. She testified that she considered the matter closed because she was not the Director of Mental Health at the time. When asked whether she has pursued it subsequent to her promotion to that supervisory position, she stated that she discussed it with her regional coordinators, and informed them that they have a duty to report such incidences.
James E. Page, hospital administrator for SCDC's Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital (GPH), was then called to testify for the defense.
During direct examination, Page discussed operations at GPH. Page discussed assessment procedures and classification systems. He testified regarding inmate counseling, explaining that counseling is usually conducted in an office, and corrections officers remain outside the office.
He testified that 13 group therapy groups are ongoing that meet weekly. On cross examination, however, Page was asked to address the many times group therapy services were not held. For example, in October of 2011, 42 sessions were scheduled, according to charts from SCDC files, but only 20 were actually held.
Under cross examination he was asked to elaborate on his background as a licensed social worker. He stated that although he does not have a degree in social work, he was grandfathered in by SCDC as a licensed social worker in 1994 because of his work experience and having minored in social work during college.
During his testimony on cross and re-direct, Page addressed a number of issues that inhibit the SCDC staff's ability to provide mental health services, including counselor terminations, furloughs, and budget cuts.
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March 6, 2012: Attorneys for SCDC moved the Court late Monday afternoon to dismiss Plaintiff's case on several legal grounds. Judge Baxley took the motion under advisement and opened the session today by denying that motion, finding that Defendant’s arguments were unpersuasive.
SCDC then offered the testimony of Yolanda Delgado, Director of Training and Audits. Delgado testified regarding her duties and job responsibilities, which include compiling monthly statistics related to mental health services, conducting annual audits of mental health counselors, and coordinating mental health training.
During direct examination, Delgado described recent changes to SCDC policies and practices, which she testified have been put in place since she became Director of Training and Audits in 2010 and are designed to track and improve the quality of mental health services and training at SCDC.
On cross examination, Delgado was asked to explain a number of counselor audits that she performed and found satisfactory, but for which there were multiple deficiencies in record-keeping, diagnoses, treatment plans, and provision of services. She was shown examples of repeated audit failures, including one instance in which the entire counseling staff at Lieber failed the audit.
When asked about inconsistencies and discrepancies in Medical Administration Records, Delgado explained that mental health counselors are responsible for monitoring the medication records and admitted there were inconsistencies. She agreed that an inmate could be at great risk if not treated consistently, and that the MAR is vital to providing that treatment.
The trial continues Wednesday at 9 a.m.
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March 5, 2012: In today’s session, the court heard from Plaintiff’s expert witness, Steve Carter, a prominent Columbia-based architect who is the founder and managing partner of Carter Goble Associates. Mr. Carter has specialized in correctional facility planning for more than 30 years. He has consulted with correctional system officials in more than 35 states and many nations.
Mr. Carter testified regarding options available to the SC Department of Corrections to improve the agency's physical capacity to provide confidential and secure mental health services to inmates in appropriate settings. Mr. Carter identified existing locations that could be re-purposed in order to provide secure group therapy settings for mentally inmates currently housed in high security areas. He also presented potential locations and estimated costs for the option of constructing new facilities designed to centralize mental health services and housing as well as provide space for secure group therapy, all in the same facility. Mr. Carter provided cost estimates for increasing mental health staffing to meet the needs identified earlier in the trial by the psychiatrists who testified for Plaintiffs.
With the conclusion of Mr. Carter’s testimony, plaintiffs rested their case in chief. Defendants will call their second witness when Court resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m.
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