Court says mental health care in AL prisons 'horrendously inadequate', issues ruling

Court says mental health care in AL prisons 'horrendously inadequate', issues ruling

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A federal court has ruled the Alabama Department of Corrections has and is violating the eighth amendment rights for proper mental health care for its inmates.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of several inmates.

The opinion by Federal Judge Thompson states the ADOC:

  • Failed to identify prisoners with mental health needs and classify them properly.
  • Failed to provide treatment plans for prisoners with serious mental health needs
  • Failed to provide therapy from a qualified and properly supervised mental health staff with adequate frequency and confidentiality
  • Failed to provide sufficient out-of-cell time and treatment to those who need residential treatment and provide hospital-level care to those who need it
  • Failed to identify suicide risks adequately and provide adequate treatment, monitoring those who are suicidal, engaging in self-harm, or otherwise undergoing a mental health crisis.
  • Imposing disciplinary sanctions on mentally ill prisoners for symptoms of their mental illness, and imposing disciplinary sanctions without regard for the impact of sanctions on prisoners’ mental health
  • Placing seriously mentally ill prisoners in segregation without extenuating circumstances and for prolonged periods of time; placing prisoners with serious mental-health needs in segregation without adequate consideration of the impact of segregation on mental health, and providing inadequate treatment and monitoring in segregation.

The opinion calls the ADOC's mental health care "horrendously inadequate" and found the department's shortage of mental health and correctional staff combined with overcrowding were the overarching issues.

The court has ordered the parties to meet and discuss a solution, emphasizing the severity and urgency of the need for mental health care. It also states the solution must address the issue both immediately and long term, but it does not seem to put a deadline on when a solution is needed.

ADOC says Commissioner Jeff Dunn and his staff are reviewing the court's lengthy opinion with legal counsel to determine the next steps his department will take in the case.

Dunn issued the following response to the ruling:

"This order will require a broader conversation with our state leadership about how we can responsibly address the challenges facing the department.  While portions of the trial focused upon issues related to mental health care, it also highlighted many of the other challenges facing the department like our outdated facilities and our long-standing needs in the area of security.  We look forward to having an open and frank conversation with our state leadership about how to make meaningful investments into our department to ensure the safety of our staff, the security of our facilities and the well-being of those in our care."

Gov. Kay Ivey released the following response to the ruling:

"There are obviously several issues within our prison system that must be addressed. Over the next few weeks Commissioner Dunn, his staff, and my office will be reviewing Judge Thompson's order.

READ the full opinion below:

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