March, 14 Testimony

Today, SCDC presented its expert witness on mental health services, Dr. Scott Haas, former chief of psychiatry for Kentucky’s Department of Corrections. Dr. Haas testified that he believes the mental health system at SCDC is adequate and does not submit the inmates to a serious risk of harm. 

Dr. Haas' opinion is based on two short visits in late 2011 and a limited review of documents and Department policies. Dr. Haas recalled that prior to his deposition in December, 2011, he had reviewed the depositions of Plaintiff's experts. He suggested that he has since reviewed additional depositions, but could not recall which ones those were. 

He admitted that he did not visit Perry or Lieber correctional institutions, two area mental health facilities that have been primary targets of criticism in this trial. He offered the opinion, to a reasonable degree of certainty as a forensic psychiatrist, that SCDC inmates are not subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in S.C. 

However, Dr. Haas admitted at the time of his deposition that he did not know the system. He described himself as an outsider who had been provided little information about SCDC's operation. He admitted that he did not know whether additional facility tours or inspections would be helpful to him in his assessment of SCDC's mental health system.

When asked on cross examination when he reviewed SCDC mental health training plans and a video, which he had previously testified he relied upon, he admitted that he first viewed them yesterday – the day prior to taking the stand to testify.

Dr. Haas testified that he only reviewed the mental health system in its current state. He did not review historical data or evidence. He relied largely on information received from SCDC staff who he spoke with during his short visits. His source of his information for Lee correctional institution, another area mental health facility, was Lead Counselor Paul Dennis, the same counselor who testified last week that he considers inmates medication compliant so long as they get at least one of their medications once in a three day period. 

Comparisons were made between the Kentucky Department of Corrections, where Haas worked for 18 years, and SCDC. Dr. Haas agreed that every element of mental health service should have a quality component to it and noted that of the 13 prisons in the Kentucky system, each was accredited by the American Corrections Association (ACA). Evidence was presented earlier in the trial that SCDC decided to abandon its ACA accreditation years ago to save money. Dr. Haas agreed that, had he found himself in a similar situation in Kentucky, he would have advised against abandoning accreditation.

In South Carolina, inmates facing disciplinary charges may be determined Guilty But Not Accountable (GBNA) if their actions are determined to be manifestations of their mental illness.  However, such a finding does not preclude that inmate from nonetheless being placed in lock up on disciplinary detention. Dr. Haas agreed that he would have a problem with this practice, admitting that he was not aware of this practice or how often it occurred. 

In further testimony, Dr. Haas said he had no firsthand knowledge of the use of showers and alternate cells for Crisis Intervention (CI). Dr. Haas stated he took the word of Paul Dennis, the lead counselor at Lee, whom he stated had told him the practice was unusual and had been stopped immediately after it was discovered. Haas admitted that he had not reviewed logs from Lieber showing the use of such alternate cell placements for CI purposes, but he agreed that the use of such locations would not be appropriate.

He testified that if he were to audit the time periods in which counselors and psychiatrists see patients, that he would allow some latitude of a day or two here and there. He agreed, however, that if mentally ill inmates are not being seen on time consistently at multiple institutions throughout the SCDC system, then that would be an indication of a systemic deficiency.

Dr. Haas testified regarding suicide prevention policies in Kentucky and in South Carolina. Dr. Haas supported the policy in Kentucky, that suicidal inmates must be continuously monitored. Although SCDC once had a suicide prevention policy requiring continuous observation, that policy has been changed to now require only 15 minute checks. 

Dr. Haas had previously testified that he spent approximately 65 hours on this case prior to his deposition, including travel time. Judge Baxley asked Dr. Haas how much time he has spent since his deposition in December, 2011. Dr. Haas answered that he has spent an additional 15 to 20 hours. It was unclear whether that time included his trip back to South Carolina for trial.