Alabama prison commissioner: Prison fix should take holistic approach

Alabama prison commissioner: Prison fix should take holistic approach

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Court-ordered mediation is underway to fix the mental health care issues in Alabama's prison system, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

In June, federal judge Myron Thompson ruled unconstitutional the state's mental health care, calling the system "grossly inadequate."

"The judge identified the same areas we've been working on and tried to identified ourselves," Dunn explained. "We got significant issues in overcrowding. We have significant issues in understaffing and it's time to fix the problem."

Overcrowding and understaffing were two of the issues singled out by Thompson as contributing factors to the prison system's issues. He ordered the defendants and plaintiffs to go into mediation.

"I think everyone wants to solve the problem and I think that is a good place to start when you are talking about mediation," Dunn admitted.

The commissioner said the goal is to create a safe, secure prison system that helps reintroduce inmates who are released back into society.

"It's simple in what you envision," Dunn stated. "How you get there is very challenging."

The mediation process is still in its beginning stages but Dunn said he hopes the solution can help tackle the complexity of the problems.

"What we have to do initially is come up with a holistic plan that is feasible and executable," he said.

Whatever solution is found, in all likelihood it will include the hiring of more staff.

"I think it will result in more corrections staffing, more mental health staffing, and likely some medical staffing as well to address the big pieces he [Judge Thompson] identified," Dunn said.

The commissioner said he wants to address everything from staffing to construction, but over the last two years, plans to help the prison system have failed to get through the legislature.

"Now that we have this order, even more priority will be given to this issue," Dunn said. "I think you are creating a unique opportunity in the state to deal with this issue and create the type of corrections system that we need to create."

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