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March 7, 2012, Testimony

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.