Slevin, before and after 22 months in solitary confinement.
In a stunning case of prison abuse, Steven Slevin, 59, will receive $15.5 million for his 22-month ordeal in solitary confinement in a New Mexico jail. Slevin was arrested in 2005 for DWI, allegedly in a stolen vehicle (he had actually borrowed the car from a friend). Once in jail, staff determined that Slevin was suicidal and locked him in a padded cell for his protection. Three days later he was transferred to solitary confinement without any explanation, where he stayed for the next 22 months, without a trial and without even seeing a judge.
According to Slevin’s attorney, Matt Coyte, it is policy at Dona Ana County Jail to put people with mental health issues in solitary confinement. But even individuals in solitary confinement are afforded rights that Slevin frequently did not receive. He was often not allowed his one hour per day outside of his cell. He never saw a dentist about a tooth problem, which resulted in him pulling it out himself. And according to Coyte, Slevin went insane, rocking back and forth under a blanket for much of his time there. Slevin and Coyte had sought $22 million in damages, but are only receiving $15.5 million of that. It is still one of the largest prisoner civil rights lawsuits in history.
After his ordeal, Dona Ana County Jail has drastically improved its care for mentally ill inmates. It has expanded its medical area and created more medical and mental health services in the jail. In addition, the budget for inmates’ medical care has almost doubled since Slevin’s arrest. Despite these improvements, Coyte still wants one last change: a new warden. Coyte maintains that although Slevin’s case has changed the jail, the attitude of how it is run has stayed the same.