ADOC commissioner takes stand in prison mental healthcare trial

ADOC commissioner takes stand in prison mental healthcare trial

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn took the stand Friday in a federal trial about mental healthcare behind bars.

Dunn took over a troubled state prison system in 2015. Alabama's prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded.

Now there are allegations mental healthcare for inmates is also severely lacking.

Dunn took the stand just after 3:30 Friday afternoon and ended the day in the witness seat.

In the first part of questioning, the prosecution based most of their questions on the previous testimony of Ruth Naglich, the associate commissioner for the prison system's health services. Earlier in the trial, she gave the system a D grade for providing mental healthcare and said she was not comfortable with the quality of care at some facilities.

Dunn also testified about the state's healthcare contract, how it's monitored and when the contract with the current company began.

The commissioner testified about the understaffing in the state's prisons, the system's budget cuts and how tight it is, and inmate suicides.

All of this boils down to if the state prison system is providing constitutionally adequate mental health care.

"We definitely are not saying that Commissioner Dunn is a bad person. We're not saying that he doesn't want to help. We have sued him in his official capacity, we're suing the office. What that means is the Alabama Department of Corrections has a constitutional obligation to provide minimally adequate mental health care. It has to do it. It's an obligation imposed on them by our constitution," said Maria Morris, senior supervising staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. "If we're going to lock up twice as many people as we have prison space for then we are going to need to provide them with the services that we're constitutionally obligated to provide them with. The Alabama Department of Corrections has to find out a way to do that."

Court will resume Saturday at 8 a.m with Dunn back on the stand.

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