Alabama Prison Officials “Deliberately Indifferent” to Mental Health Needs

Gigi Douban, WBHM

Donaldson Correctional Facility in unincorporated Jefferson County

A federal judge ruled Monday the Alabama prison system has failed to monitor the mental health of prisoners isolated in segregation cells, a failure to which the Alabama Department of Corrections is “deliberately indifferent,” according to the order.

“[I]n light of the significant number of wholly unanticipated suicides in ADOC segregation units, by individuals who were not on the mental-health caseload, defendants’ contention that ‘the system works’ is astonishing,” the order from U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson reads. The 66-page decision follows calls last week from the Southern Poverty Law Center asking Gov. Kay Ivey and state lawmakers to address the crisis in state prisons.

“We are only sorry ADOC didn’t do anything to remedy the situation during the last year and a half, as hundreds or thousands of men and women suffered in ADOC segregation units, and ultimately as 13 people took their own lives,” a statement from the SPLC says.

ADOC in 2017 was found to have violated the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. That ruling said “persistent and severe shortages” of mental health care staff contributed to the prison system’s failings, calling the mental health care system there “horrendously inadequate.” A 2014 lawsuit filed by the SPLC notes several examples where prison staff failed to give adequate health and medical care to inmates. In addition, according to the lawsuit, prisoners were placed under “do not resuscitate” or “allow natural death” orders without their consent or knowledge. Prisoners with serious mental health issues were routinely kept in solitary confinement and given little or no mental health care.

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