SC Department of Mental Health News Release


For Immediate Release
December 5, 2002
Contact: John Hutto
Office of Communications

SCDMH to Submit Plan to Eliminate Waiting Lists for Jails

Columbia, SC: Today the SCDMH said that on December 6, 2002, it will present to the court the Department’s plan to eliminate the waiting lists of mentally ill inmates in jails around South Carolina.

SCDMH provides psychiatric evaluation and treatment services for adult criminal defendants and juveniles charged with a crime in Family Court. The evaluation and treatment of individuals involved in the adult and juvenile criminal justice system is the purpose of the Forensic Services staff at the SCDMH William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute. The Hall Institute forensic staff provides inpatient forensic services at the Columbia Care Center, sometimes referred to as "Just Care," the company which leases the building to SCDMH. The move of the forensic programs to Just Care in November and December, 2001, was intended to help the Department avoid the expense of maintaining the two ageing, antiquated buildings previously housing forensic inpatient services.

The waiting lists for admission of criminal defendants to the Department’s inpatient forensic hospital first began in the spring of 2001. Although the number of forensic inpatient beds operated by SCDMH is roughly the same now as it was at the beginning of 2001, the hospital lost staff after the budget cuts in 2001. The staff losses had an impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the treatment programs. Most notable were the increased lengths of stay of forensic patients, meaning there were fewer patients being discharged each month. That, in turn, meant that the inpatient programs had fewer vacancies, and the waiting lists began. Further, there was an increase in the demand for forensic services.

Under the waiting list system, defendants are generally admitted in the order they were added to the list. However, exceptions are made for psychiatric emergencies. Sheriffs and jail administrators throughout the state are understandably frustrated by the waiting lists, as most of the defendants awaiting admission remain in detention in local detention facilities. Sheriffs and administrators have generally been understanding about the impact the budget cuts have had on SCDMH’s inpatient forensic services, and have cooperated with the waiting list system.

As a result of a court action concerning SCDMH’s practice of placing committed criminal defendants on waiting lists for admission, the Department has formulated a plan to reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting lists. It is the Department’s goal to have the waiting lists completely eliminated by the summer of 2003.

The Plan consists of the following elements:

Additional staff has been assigned to and additional staff is in the process of being hired for SCDMH’s forensic inpatient facility at the Columbia Care Center (Just Care). The increased staffing is expected to result in shortened lengths of stay and eventually bring the facility’s capacity in line with the rate at which criminal defendants are committed.

Reorganization and reconfiguration of the Pre-Trial Treatment program. By increasing staffing and capacity to the acute care component of the forensic inpatient program, SCDMH hopes to increase the pace of admissions and discharges for defendants in need of short term treatment and evaluation, most of whom return to jail upon discharge.

Conversion of Building 1, on the campus of the former Crafts-Farrow State Hospital, into two 16 bed "step-down" residential care facilities. This will provide increased discharge options for those forensic patients who are clinically stable, but who need continued close supervision and support.

Recruitment has begun to initiate an in-jail competency restoration project at Richland County’s Detention Center

The projected annual cost of the increased staffing and the step-down residential care facility is over $2,000,000. Without additional appropriations from the General Assembly, those operating costs will reduce resources for other programs and services provided by the Department.

The Incident with the Pickens County Inmate

On November 26, 2002, a sheriff’s deputy from Pickens County brought a defendant to the Columbia Care Center for admission pursuant to a recent commitment order. SCDMH had not yet received notice of the commitment order and therefore had not yet added the defendant to the waiting list. The Sheriff’s Department called ahead to notify SCDMH of the transport. The deputy was advised that no beds were available. Rather than return to Pickens County with the defendant, the deputy handcuffed the defendant to the exterior fence of the hospital and left. SCDMH and the hospital staff released him, and SCDMH added a bed for him in the program.

SCDMH finds the actions of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Department inappropriate.

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