Alabama DOC proposes almost doubling mental health staff

Alabama DOC proposes almost doubling mental health staff

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama's prison system could see its mental health staff almost double if a recent proposal comes to fruition.

The plan to hire around 125 mental health staff comes after a federal judge ruled the prison system's mental health care was "grossly inadequate."

Federal Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Department of Corrections to work with plaintiffs to start coming up with solutions. Earlier this week, the state released the remedial plan to address understaffing. In the plan, the DOC went over staffing analysis carried out on a few facilities and revamped recruiting efforts for correctional officers and the plan to hire more mental health care workers.

The new mental healthcare workers would cost the state around $10 million annually.

In a statement the DOC said:

"The Alabama Department of Corrections is committed to providing prisoners with constitutionally acceptable health care during the time of their incarceration. Doubling staffing levels will ensure the delivery of reasonably adequate mental-health care is sustainable at a time when the number of inmate's requiring care is expected to rise. However, an increase in staffing is contingent on adequate funding."

Funding has long been an issue for Alabama especially as the costs of corrections and Medicaid continue to rise.

"So this is the first step in that process of Alabamians taking the lead," Governor Kay Ivey said.

However a federal ruling could force the stay to open up its check book and pay out.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit, said there are some steps in the right direction under the plan. However, they would like the plan to happen faster and are still reviewing the information.

"It's definitely good that they are going to add staff they need to add staff, they desperately need to add staff," said Maria Morris, SPLC senior supervising attorney.

Understaffing of correctional officers has long been an issue in the state prison system, with levels often around 50 percent of what is recommended. The DOC has constantly tried to increase staffing in recent years with limited success.

Morris said a court ordered increase in the number of correctional officers could become expensive as well.

A hearing on the understaffing issues in the state prison system, is scheduled for November, with two more hearings on other concerns in the following months.

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