Transcript: Attorney Stuart Andrews Jr.’s testimony on solitary confinement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on June 19, 2012

Partial transcript of testimony of Stuart M. Andrews, Jr., Partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, on solitary confinement. The hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences” was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on June 19, 2012:

…I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide the committee with information concerning the use of solitary confinement in South Carolina prisons, particularly the use to which inmates diagnosed with mental illness have been subjected.

The Nelson Mullins law firm represents a class of inmates with serious mental illness in South Carolina prisons, many of whom has spent significant time in solitary confinement. I’m appearing today on behalf of that class and its guard ad litem, Joy C. Jay, as well as on behalf of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, a South Carolina non-profit organization charged by federal and state law to protect and advocate for the right of people with disabilities.

After years of investigations, reports, and negotiations, the inmate class and P&A filed suit in South Carolina state court in June 2005 against the South Carolina Department of Corrections, alleging violations of the the South Carolina Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and seeking injunctive relief to require the provision of adequate mental health services to our class inmates.

After more than six years of litigation, a bench trial was held in March and February this past year, although no ruling has been entered to date.

A major issue in the trial was the extensive reliance by the Department of Corrections on solitary confinement as a means of managing inmate conduct, particularly inmates with mental illness. During their imprisonment, nearly half of the 3,000 men and women with mental illnesses on the department’s caseload have been held in solitary confinement for periods cumulatively averaging almost two years.

The effects of the conditions in solitary confinement can be harmful for anyone but they particularly expose individuals with mental illness to substantial risk of future serious harm. The applicable Eighth Amendment standard apply in systemic condition cases like ours.

To illustrate some of what we’ve learned about the operations of solitary confinement in our state’s prisons, I would like to call your attention to two individuals who’ve been members of our class.

The first is Theodore Robinson, who is a 50-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia serving a life sentence. Mr. Robinson’s speech is highly disorganized and he has a history of bizarre behavior, such as drinking his own urine. Like many people with schizophrenia, he suffers hallucinations and delusions. For example, he believes that at night while he sleeps doctors secretly enter his cell and perform surgery on him. From 1993 through 2005, a period of 12 consecutive years, Mr. Robinson was kept in solitary confinement. 15 days after our lawsuit was filed, however, the department removed Mr. Robinson from solitary and placed him in its psychiatric residential program.

Other inmates with serious mental illness have not been so lucky. In South Carolina, mentally ill inmates are twice as likely as those without it to be in solitary confinement, 2.5 times as likely to receive a sentence in solitary that exceeds their projected release date from prison, and over 3 times as likely to be assigned to an indefinite period of time in solitary.

Mentally ill inmates placed in solitary are not limited to those with mild mental disorders. Like Theodore Robinson, many are diagnosed with schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or major depression.

A Department of Corrections psychiatrist at Lee Correctional Institution, for example, estimated that 40% to 50% of her caseloads in solitary confinement were actively psychotic.

Perhaps the single most deplorable solitary confinement unit in South Carolina’s prison system is a cell block in Lee Correctional Institution known as Lee Supermax.

On Feb. 18, 2008, an inmate named Jerome Laudman was found in a Lee Supermax cell laying naked without a blanket or a mattress, faced down on a concrete floor in his own vomit and feces. He died later that day in a nearby hospital. The cause of death was reported as a heart attack but hospital record noted hypothermia with a body temperature upon arrival at the hospital of only 80.6 degrees.

Mr. Laudman suffers from schizophrenia, mental retardation, and a speech impediment. According to his mental health counselor, he had never acted in an aggressive or threatening manner. On Feb. 7, 2008, 11 days before his death, Mr. Laudman was moved to Lee Supermax reportedly for hygiene reasons because he refused to take a shower, although no one later admitted to ordering the move. On Feb. 11, one week before Mr. Laudman’s death a correctional officer saw him stooped over like he was real sick or weak. The officer noticed styrofoam trays piled up inside his door that had not been collected. He considered notifying a unit captain or administrator but was discouraged by his supervisor. On the afternoon of Mr. Laudman’s death, two nurses were called to Mr. Laudman’s cell. They observed him lying facedown in his own waste and vomit but still alive. The styrofoam trays were still there with rotted food. The conditions were so foul that the nurses and the correctional officers whom they summoned refused to enter the cell to remove Mr. Laudman who was still alive at that point. So instead, they called two inmate hospice workers who took 30 minutes to get there, at which point they removed the body. And later that day in a hospital, Mr. Laudman died.

In South Carolina, a disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates are placed in solitary confinement. Many are actively psychotic. Conditions are atrocious. Mental health services inadequate. Stays are inhumanely long.

Theodore Robinson was fortunate. After 12 consecutive years in solitary, he was transferred to a psychiatric residential program but coincidentally two weeks after he had filed a lawsuit against the department.

Jerome Laudman was not so fortunate. After 11 days in Lee Supermax, he died of neglect in a cold, filthy cell.

For other inmates with mental illness in solitary confinement in South Carolina, the story is ongoing. Will they receive adequate mental health treatment to stabilize their mental illness? How well will the solitary prepare them to handle the transition back into the community? These questions and their implications for the constitutional rights of all mentally ill inmates in South Carolina remain unanswered today. We thank you and this committee for undertaking them to try to improve and correct it. Thank you.

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