Mental health care facilities in trial: New prison plan proposed

Owing to the inadequacy of mental health care facilities in the state prisons in Alabama, inmates suffering from mental illnesses in those prisons have sued the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC). The charges state that mental health care facilities in the state prison are so inadequate that it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

According to a news report by one of the websites of the Alabama Media Group, the prison inmates blamed the DOC for not doing enough to prevent the rising suicides in the state prisons. Steven Brown, the DOC’s chief of staff, admitted during his testimony, that a lack of staffing and space has led to security concerns that have made it difficult to provide sufficient treatment to inmates suffering from mental illnesses.

Brown further confirmed that staffing shortages have rendered the department incapable of providing the required surveillance to suicidal inmates. He further stated that the number of correctional officers in Alabama prisons have decreased drastically and the only thing that fills up the gap are part-time correctional officers and overtime accounts.

While the lawsuit continues, inmate Jamie Wallace, who testified on the trial’s first day, committed suicide last month. Though Wallace’s death led the U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson to order the DOC to improve its suicide prevention protocols, it did not include increasing the number of correctional staff.

Alabama prisons: Overcrowded and understaffed

Prisons in Alabama have long faced the twin trouble of overcrowding and understaffing. As per Alabama’s DOC, prisons in Alabama were at their 175 percent capacity in September 2016. While this overcrowding contributed to violence within the system, it also contributed to a 20 percent drop in the number of correctional officers needed.

The DOC has also been sued by the civil rights groups over allegations pertaining to inadequate medical and mental health care facilities within the prison system.

New prison plan: $800 million to revive Alabama’s prisons

As per the Montgomery Advertiser, in the face of the lawsuit, Governor Robert Bentley and Alabama DOC’s Commissioner Jeff Dunn plan to revive last year’s proposal to replace the state’s existing prisons with four large ones. The state would borrow $800 million to build three men’s prisons each with 4,000-beds and replace the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women with a new women’s facility.

According to Gov. Bentley and Commissioner Dunn, the proposal is the only way to address the growing problem of violence within the state prisons. In addition, combining prisons would also help in reducing overhead costs.

Supporters of the proposal say that the new prisons will have more space for education and training programs and rehabilitation services. They also argue that the new facilities will require less staffing and would still provide improved safety for inmates and correctional officers.

While many are counting on the $800 million initiative to help DOC’s ability to provide proper care to inmates suffering from mental health, attorneys representing the inmates argued that a prison plan would not help affect mental health care for prisoners for at least three to five years. They also argue that no clear explanation has been provided as to how the plan will improve care post its execution.

Road to recovery

Prisons are places designed to hold law-breakers from the rest of the society. While it may be difficult to imagine a prison as a place for someone with a mental illness, it is equally true that not all prisons are equipped to handle inmates with serious mental health issues.

If you know someone suffering from any mental disorder, help him or her get the necessary treatment at a certified treatment facility. Contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to get access to the best mental health counseling programs in the U.S. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with our mental health therapists to find the best mental health rehabilitation centers, near you.