A MENTALLY ILL INMATE WHO DIED OF THIRST WAS RESTRAINED FOR 17 STRAIGHT HOURS -- 15 PAST THE POLICY LIMIT -- IN A PROCEDURE NOW BANNED -- "60 MINUTES," SUNDAY, FEB. 11, 7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT
Scott Pelley's Report Questions the Plight of the 300,000 Mentally Ill in U.S. Prisons
Before he died of thirst, a mentally ill inmate in Michigan who had refused water was strapped down on a concrete slab for 17 straight hours, 60 MINUTES has learned. Timothy Souders, 21, should have been released at least every two hours during the four days of "protective" restraining that a federal judge deemed "torture" and subsequently banned. Scott Pelley investigates Souder's death in a report that questions the plight of 300,000 other mentally ill inmates in U.S. jails. Pelley's report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, Feb. 11 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I cannot believe anyone would treat another human being that way at all," says Souders' mother, Theresa Vaughn. "That they can watch over a four day period -- slowly declining, slowly dying before their eyes," she tells Pelley. She has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. 60 MINUTES discovered the long period of restraint -- and two others of 12 and 16 hours, respectively -- after a painstaking review of time-coded prison surveillance video. It has also learned that a nurse at the facility, the Southern Michigan Correctional Center, was dismissed after Souders' death for failing to recognize this dire condition.
Michigan Corrections Director Patricia Caruso says she cannot comment directly on Souders' case because of the lawsuit, but contends that restraining is done to protect the inmate and others around him. "I have correctional officers who become accustomed to having urine and feces thrown on them by prisoners...who have prisoners who are so injurious that they will open their bodies to remove organs," says Caruso. She also says those who are restrained are unchained at least every two hours and allowed to move about. The state of Michigan is appealing the decision by federal judge Richard Enslen to ban the kind of restraints that were used on Souders
Souders, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was serving time for assault and resisting arrest. He had been placed in "top-of-bed restraints," meaning chained down by the hands, feet and waist, for flooding his cell. Prior to that, he had attempted suicide three times in jail and before jail, had been hospitalized for mental problems and placed on medication.
The former director of psychological services at the prison where Souders died viewed the surveillance tape and says the mental health staff of the prison should have been alerted. But at the time of Souders' restraining, the staff psychiatrist was on a seven-week leave. "Then he should have been replaced. It's too critical a situation," psychologist Robert Walsh tells Pelley. Walsh has studied Michigan prisons extensively, finding that staff often think they can punish psychotic prisoners into better behavior and sometimes insist that inmates exhibiting insanity are not mentally ill. He gave an example. "One man, he enucleated his eyes, cut them out, because he felt they were offending God," says Walsh. "The psychiatric and psychological staff considered them to be malingerers and manipulators that went to extremes," he tells Pelley. "Or a man who disembowels himself...he's manipulating," says Walsh.
Souders is part of an unfortunate national trend; there are approximately 300,000 mental patients in prison -- 16 percent of the incarcerated population -- according to U.S. Justice Department statistics. Since institutions began closing in the 1960s, the mentally ill have become the homeless and the incarcerated. In the Michigan prison system, other mentally ill inmates have died of dehydration, like Souders, and at least one starved to death.
Vaughn finds it hard to accept the death of her son. "I don't believe anybody meant to kill...to hurt Tim, but they did," she tells Pelley. "And he did die. He's not coming home. He's not coming back and he is gone and he was only 21 years old."