A New Mexico county has agreed to pay Steven Slevin $15.5 million this week as compensation for the nearly two years Slevin spent as a pretrial detainee in a solitary confinement cell. Slevin spent 22 months in the cell waiting to be tried for drunk-driving charges that were eventually dropped. Slevin was allegedly held in solitary confinement because prison officials knew he had a history of mental illness.
Slevin entered the prison system in August of 2005 as a “well-nourished, physically healthy adult.” When he emerged in June of 2007, his condition had significantly deteriorated. He weighed just only 133 pounds and had a long beard, bed sores, and bad teeth.
Slevin suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the treatment he received. His mental illness worsened as a result of the isolation and lack of medical care. He said he was even forced to pull his own tooth after prison official ignored his pleas for medical help.
Albuquerque civil rights attorney Matthew Coyte filed the lawsuit on Slevin’s behalf. Coyte says that he hopes the suit will bring some attention to the use of solitary confinement in America. “Other countries use it as a form of torture,” he told reporters, “whereas America uses it as a routine method of incarceration.”
For their part, Dona Ana County released a statement Thursday that apologized for the harm suffered by Slevin and expounded on improvements made to the prison system in the seven years since Slevin’s release. The county went so far as to say it has taken “bold steps” to improve the jail, which would make it “the model for detention centers and the care of the mentally ill in the state of New Mexico.”
While Slevin is currently battling lung cancer, Coyte told CNN that he is doing as well as can be expected. In an e-mail Coyte wrote to CNN, he said Slevin “will always suffer the effects of his inhumane treatment at the hands of Dona Ana County. The money can never replace what they took from him.”