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Judge Orders Alabama Reforms to Deal With Inmate Mental Illness

A federal judge is requiring Alabama prison officials to implement sweeping reforms to address the “sky-high rates of suicidality” and “scarce mental-health resources” plaguing the state’s correctional facilities, reports Courthouse News Service. Senior U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued four rulings on Monday. They described the history of the class-action lawsuit that successfully pinned liability for inmate deaths on the state in 2017, detailed the changes that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has implemented, listed the relief ordered by the court and codified the injunction.


“Prisoners do not receive adequate treatment and out-of-cell time because of insufficient security staff to supervise these activities. They are robbed of opportunities for confidential counseling sessions because there are too few staff to escort them to treatment, forcing providers to hold sessions cell-side,” Thompson wrote. “They decompensate, unmonitored, in restrictive housing units, and they are left to fend for themselves in a culture of violence, easy access to drugs, and extortion that has taken root in ADOC facilities in the absence of an adequate security presence. The resulting sky-high rates of suicidality divert scarce mental-health resources from treatment provision to crisis management, exacerbating the deficiencies in care." Thompson said the state has taken some “significant steps forward” but noted that, by and large, deficiencies remain. Staffing shortages persist at Alabama prisons in both correctional and mental health care capacities, housing remains restrictive and crowded and not all mental health treatment has been conducted in confidential settings. Thompson gave state officials until July 1, 2025, to meet new staffing requirements, such as reaching at least “3,826 full-time-equivalent correctional staffing positions” to fill “essential” positions.


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