Criminal Justice

Mentally Ill Man Who Was Arrested, Put in Solitary for 22 Months, Awarded $22 Million for His Trouble

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This is the kind of all-American human interest story never highlighted in State of the Union addresses; a federal judge just awarded former New Mexico resident Stephen Slevin $22 million for the "inhumane treatment" he suffered while in solitary confinement at Doña Ana County Detention Center in New Mexico.

Slevin, who had a history of mental illness, was arrested in August 2005 and, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News, charged with "possession of a stolen vehicle, aggravated driving while under the influence, driving with a suspended license, possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and improper use of registration, according to court records."

He was then put into solitary confinement for 22 months and denied medical attention while his mental state worsened. He was briefly taken to a psychiatric hospital, but then returned to jail.

The lawsuit stated that Slevin at one point had to pull his own tooth and his pleas for medical care were ignored. It also said he now has PTSD and will have to take medication for life. If he didn't have mental problems before, it seems pretty unsurprising for him to have them now.

Slevin was released in 2007 after a judge dismissed the charges against him and ruled Slevin "incompetent and not dangerous."

The county is appealing the decision and it's unlikely that anything near that level of payout will be awarded to Sleven; They offered to settle for $2 million before the judge's verdict, but were refused. Slevin said "this was never about the money," but here's hoping he gets something substantial enough to live on for the rest of life. Or to pay his medical bills, since since he's currently fighting lung cancer.

Read Reason on solitary confinement, and on criminal justice, particularly July 2010's "Criminal Injustice" special issue