Help is On The Way: A New Ruling to Protect Against Abuse of the Mentally Ill in South Carolina Prisons

Help is On The Way: A New Ruling to Protect Against Abuse of the Mentally Ill in South Carolina Prisons

The South Carolina prison system has permitted the abuse of mentally ill inmates for at least the last ten years.  The stories that have been documented about these inmates with serious mental illnesses are horrific.

Mr. Laudman, a schizophrenic, intellectually disabled man with a speech impediment was one of thousands of individuals with serious mental illness who was abused.  According to his mental health counselor, he was neither aggressive nor threatening.  But, while getting transferred to another facility, he was sprayed with chemical munitions and physically abused by a correctional officer.  This move was videotaped, but when viewed by an investigator the tape was mostly blank.  What was left was the image of Mr. Laudman stripped naked and left in a completely empty cell.  Three days later, a correctional officer observed that he was sick and weak – but did not report it.  Mr. Laudman then stopped eating and taking medication.  One week later he was seen lying on the cell floor in feces and vomit.  He laid there all morning.  In the afternoon, nurses came to help and in addition to the vomit and feces, observed molding food.  The nurses and officers refused to retrieve the body.  Instead, two inmates came to retrieve Mr. Laudman, who was unconscious, but still alive.  Later that afternoon, he died in the hospital of a heart attack and was reported to have hypothermia.

Mr. Laudman died in 2008, three years after a class action suit was filed alleging cruel and unusual punishment against the seriously mentally ill inmates in the South Carolina prison system.  And, although the circumstances of his treatment were uncovered in 2008, it continued on because the defendants could not “accept the obvious at some point and come forward in a meaningful way to try to improve its mental health system.”  This abuse continued on until a week ago when a judge ruled that this abusive and harmful treatment of inmates with serious mental illnesses must change.

I don’t know why Mr. Laudman was in prison.  But, does it matter?  He wasn’t given a death sentence, there was no order to kill him slowly, painfully, with such cruelty, and disgustingly left to rot and die in his own waste.  How can we say we are a progressive society when this conduct was sanctioned by law enforcement professionals?  And, I’m sure the well-documented harm to these most disadvantaged people is not isolated to just South Carolina.

At least there is help on the way for one in fifty states.

Read more about the ruling and the South Carolina prisons in The Atlantic.


Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.