SPLC: ADOC should be held in contempt for missing mental health staffing deadline

 Published 4:40 p.m. CT Dec. 10, 2018

Ten months after a federal judge ordered Alabama Department of Corrections to increase its mental health staff numbers, the department may be held in contempt for failure to meet required staffing deadlines.

A contempt hearing regarding the matter is scheduled for Tuesday and is part of an extensive ongoing lawsuit regarding health care within Alabama prisons filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Last year U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson called ADOC’s mental health care “horrendously inadequate” and ruled it violated inmates’ constitutional rights.

A February order required ADOC to fulfill the required mental health staffing level (263.2 full-time equivalents or FTEs) by July 1.

ADOC currently has only 76 percent of the required level (201.1 FTEs).

“They (ADOC) have asked to amend, alter or vacate the order that says they have to reach this number of staff and have asked for specific ways of counting the number of staff they have,” said SPLC senior staff attorney Maria Morris. “We have opposed that. I think there are simple, straightforward ways of counting the number of staff hired, and they proposed this deadline so they should meet it. If they haven’t, they should be held in contempt.”

ADOC did not immediately reply to a request for comment or verification of its mental health staffing numbers.

ADOC Public Information Manager Bob Horton said last week ADOC has increased the department’s mental health staff by 24 percent since April.

The SPLC filed the motion to hold ADOC in contempt for violation of the order one day after it missed the July 1 deadline.

Judge Thompson granted the motion and during a September contempt hearing, ADOC asked for clarification as to what the order required in terms of staffing.

The hearing was then postponed pending mediation between the two sides, and Thompson later clarified that ADOC was required to staff 263.2 FTEs, a number ADOC listed in its 2017 health care provider request-for-proposal as the minimum staffing requirement. That RFP eventually resulted in ADOC contracting with health care service vendor Wexford Health Sources.

At the time of Thompson’s initial ruling last year, 19 percent of Alabama’s inmates were diagnosed with mental illness.

The mental health care concerns being litigated were made real during the trial by the suicide of Jamie Wallace, a mentally ill inmate who committed suicide 10 days after testifying to the lack of care in Alabama prisons in December 2016.

According to court filings, Wallace went on suicide watch five days after his testimony. After his death, plaintiffs’ attorneys said “records produced thus far” showed no counseling was provided to Wallace during or after his time on suicide watch. Wallace was left unattended “most of the day of his death,” according to the filing.

“Without question, Wallace’s testimony and the tragic event that followed darkly draped all the subsequent testimony like a pall,” Thompson wrote in his decision.

In Fiscal Year 2018, which the Alabama Department of Corrections uses to report its data, seven people were killed and six committed suicide. Nearly 40 inmates attempted suicide.

SPLC attorneys have acknowledged that ADOC faces a difficult road to address due to the costs associated with hiring more staff, but Morris said ADOC has no choice but to provide adequate health care in prisons.

“One thing we don’t have a choice about is providing constitutional conditions, and if we want to have the size of prisons system that we currently have, we have to pay more for it,” Morris said. “We have to pay to have more guards and pay to have more mental health staff. If we can’t decide to pay more for it we need to downsize the system because we need the guards and we need the mental health staff.”

Reporter Melissa Brown contributed to this report. 
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Most Women In Prison Are Moms — Advocates Want You To Remember Them On Mother’s Day, Too

By MORGAN BRINLEE
A Momma and her baby
A Momma and her baby

For most moms, Mother’s Day is a time to be celebrated. But for nearly 80 percent of the women currently incarcerated in the United States, Mother’s Day won’t mean flowers, pedicures, breakfast in bed, or even a day spent with their children. Instead it will mean another day behind bars, separated from family, and struggling with feelings of isolation and guilt. This Mother’s Day, however, advocates are working to raise awareness about the plights of incarcerated moms across the country.

In the last couple of decades, women have become the fastest growing group of people to be thrown behind bars, according to a 2016 report from the Vera Institute of Justice. Nearly 80 percent of incarcerated women in America are mothers with dependent children — a staggering statistic by any measure. And, more often than not, those mothers are single parents, the report found. That means that their children may be especially affected by the devastating consequences that can come along with having a mother incarcerated.

“When moms are jailed, the consequences for children can be devastating, from being shunted into the foster care system, to remaining home alone to fend for themselves,” Human Rights Watch has reported.

Formerly incarcerated women agree. “When you incarcerate women, you incarcerate the whole family,”

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Eight reasons for America’s shameful number of wrongful convictions

By JOHN GRISHAM and published here
Lamonte McIntyre, convicted of a 1994 double homicide in Kansas City, Kan., was incarcerated for 23 years before released in October when the case against him was dismissed. (Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press)
Lamonte McIntyre, convicted of a 1994 double homicide in Kansas City, Kan., was incarcerated for 23 years before released in October when the case against him was dismissed. (Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via Associated Press)

It is too easy to convict an innocent person.

The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.

Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It’s nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they’ve been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.

Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison.

Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison. Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we’ve only scratched the surface.

Wrongful convictions happen for several reasons. In no particular order, these causes are:

Bad police work

Most cops are honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide, alter or fabricate evidence, lie on the witness stand, cut deals with snitches in return for bogus testimony, intimidate and threaten witnesses, coerce confessions or manipulate eyewitness identifications.

Prosecutorial misconduct

Most prosecutors are also honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide exculpatory evidence, encourage witnesses to commit perjury, lie to jurors, judges and defense lawyers, use the testimony of bogus experts or ignore relevant evidence beneficial to the accused.

False confessions

Most jurors find it impossible to believe that a suspect would confess to a serious crime he didn’t commit. Yet the average citizen, if taken to a basement room and subjected to 10 consecutive hours of abusive interrogation tactics by experienced cops, might be surprised at what they would say. Of the 330 people who were exonerated by DNA evidence between 1989 to 2015, about 25% gave bogus confessions after lengthy interrogations. Almost every one recanted soon after.

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Hepatitis C Drugs Save Lives, but Sick Prisoners Aren’t Getting Them

By
An inmate who has hepatitis C at California Men’s Colony prison in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Prisons are a logical battleground in the fight against the virus. Credit Andrew Burton/Getty Images
An inmate who has hepatitis C at California Men’s Colony prison in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Prisons are a logical battleground in the fight against the virus. Credit Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Any national campaign to eliminate hepatitis C, an insidious virus that kills tens of thousands of Americans a year, would almost certainly involve prisons.

One in seven state inmates are believed to be infected, and the regimented environment of a prison has its advantages when it comes to screening and treatment.

The problem is, the drugs that effectively cure the disease are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars — far more than prisons can pay. In 2015, state corrections departments were treating less than 1 percent of those inmates known to be infected, a survey found.

Now courts have begun ordering states to provide the drugs regardless of cost, prompting an unusual showdown over how pharmaceutical companies set prices for the treatments.

In at least nine states, prisoners have filed lawsuits arguing that withholding drugs constitutes deliberate indifference to their dire medical needs, violating a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Last week, Massachusetts settled a lawsuit by agreeing to give all prisoners in advanced stages of the disease access to drugs.

In November, a federal district judge in Florida was the first to order a state prison to begin treating sick inmates. The state must now provide drugs to all inmates with severe liver damage by the end of this year and those with significant damage in 2019.

“This Court will not tolerate further foot dragging,” Judge Mark E. Walker wrote. “One can only wonder how long Defendant would have kicked the can down the road had Plaintiffs not filed this case.”

Dr. Anne Spaulding, an associate professor of public health at Emory University and the former medical director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, called the order an unfunded mandate. “It’s an impossible situation that the prison administrators are put in,” she said. “You can’t buy something you don’t have any money for.”

Prisons would be a logical linchpin in a campaign to eliminate hepatitis C: some studies suggest that one in three Americans with the disease pass through a correctional facility in any given year.

Delaying treatment has grave consequences. A leading cause of cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease, hepatitis C wreaks irreversible but invisible damage for years; when symptoms become apparent, it is too late to treat. The disease is blood-borne and usually acquired from unsafe transfusions or injection drug use, but perhaps only half of those infected know they have it. It can also be transmitted through tattooing using nonsterile equipment.

Early therapies for hepatitis C induced fatigue and depression in many patients and cleared the infection in less than half of them. But four years ago drugmakers began to introduce new medicines that do not have the same debilitating side effects and cure nearly all patients, revolutionizing treatment.

In return, the companies demanded high prices — Gilead Science debuted the first of the new class of hepatitis C drugs, Sovaldi, at $84,000 per course of therapy — and private insurers proved willing to pay.

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Gov. Kay Ivey signs contract for health care in Alabama prisons

By Mike Cason mcason@al.com and published here
The disciplinary segregation ward at Draper Correctional Facility during a media tour of the prison in February 2017. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
The disciplinary segregation ward at Draper Correctional Facility during a media tour of the prison in February 2017. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)

Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a contract with a Pittsburgh-based company to provide medical care and mental health care in Alabama prisons after a short delay related to a lawsuit filed against the company by the state of Mississippi.

The Department of Corrections will pay Wexford Health Sources Inc., $360 million over 30 months, beginning April 1.

The chairman of the Legislature’s contract review committee, Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, had delayed the contract on March 1. Williams said his concerns were mostly about the Mississippi litigation.

Williams said he released the contract last week because he did not want to hinder Alabama’s efforts to reach an agreement in a federal lawsuit over mental health care for prisoners. The contract review committee cannot block legislation but can hold it for up to 45 days.

“The governor had the ultimate say-so on this. My intention was to give the governor’s office further time to evaluate the situation,” Williams said.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that Alabama’s mental health care for inmates was “horrendously inadequate.” The state has proposed increasing mental health staff in prisons as part of an effort to come up with a plan that would satisfy the court.

The contract with Wexford calls for increased mental health staffing. The Legislature is close to approving a total of about $80 million in additional funding for prisons over two years. Most of that is intended to pay for increased medical and mental health care costs.

The Department of Corrections chose Wexford over two other final bidders, Centurion and Corizon Health. Centurion includes MHM Services, which is DOC’s current mental health provider. Corizon Health is DOC’s current medical care provider.

The department has not released the bid amounts. Spokesman Bob Horton said they would be released after the Tuesday deadline for the other bidders to file a challenge. Horton said no protest has been filed as of today.

The state of Mississippi sued Wexford and other companies alleging they had a role in a scheme to pay consultants to bribe state officials. Mississippi’s former prison commissioner was sentenced to prison. Wexford has denied any wrongdoing.

Williams said the Department of Corrections contract includes a provision that Wexford could forfeit a $15 million bond if it turns out the company has not been truthful in its assertions about the Mississippi case.

Bearing The Burden Of Love – The unique experience of Wrongly Convicted Women

The unique experience of wrongly convicted women

Women Standing Up For Justice
Women Standing Up For Justice

Over the course of Women’s History Month, we’ve heard from hundreds of courageous women who share in the hardship of advocating for a loved one in prison or the experience of being wrongly convicted themselves.

Below we highlight a few story submissions from the campaign.

Debra Milke of Arizona, wrongly convicted of the murder of her son, expressed the “bittersweet” feeling of being only the second woman in the U.S. exonerated from death row. Like Milke, 40% of women exonerees were convicted of harming children or loved ones:

While I did gain my hard-fought freedom, I am still left with a life without my son, making the victory bittersweet.
D E B R A  M.

And Michele B., an advocate for the wrongly convicted, who could no longer sit back and read another unjust story. Innocence stories have helped give her “purpose in life”:

I immediately went on to law school and spent my free time volunteering with the public defender’s office … I look forward to a lifetime of advocating for our nation’s most vulnerable people.
M I C H E L E  B.

Or Barbara S., who after being jailed in Fort Bragg became an activist for wrongly incarcerated women veterans, many of whom were victims of sexual assault.

A common form of punishment for reporting sexual assault is adverse discharges and incarceration to silence the victims. Therefore, [my organization’s] ongoing mission is to help homeless and transitioning women veterans fight for justice, expungement of their criminal records, and upgrade of their military discharge.
B A R B A R A  S.

Article originally published by the Innocence Project

A new bill could finally ban predatory inmate phone costs

Prison phone price gouging should end and end now
Prison phone price gouging should end and end now. Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For nearly two decades, criminal justice reform advocates have been fighting to fix a persistent and egregious flaw in the US prison system: the frequently exorbitant cost of inmate phone calls, which can run up to $17 for a 15-minute local phone call. A confluence of market failures, political intransigence, and public indifference has created a broken billing system that veteran Federal Communications Commission official Mignon Clyburn has called “the greatest, most distressing, type of injustice I have ever seen in the communications sector.”

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill that aims to restore federal authority to crack down on what prison reform advocates call the “usurious,” “abusive,” and “exploitative” business practices of a small handful of companies that dominate the $1.2 billion US prison phone industry.

$17 FOR A 15-MINUTE LOCAL PHONE CALL

An Obama-era policy sought to rectify the matter by capping inmate calling fees at as low as 11 cents per minute, but President Trump’s telecom chief Ajit Pai — facing a fierce legal attack from prison phone companies, including the two industry titans GTL and Securus — refused to defend a key portion of the rule last year. As a result, the rules are stuck in a legal quagmire.

For years, GTL and Securus have exerted effective monopoly power in many states to charge inmates, families, lawyers, and clergy excessive rates that can result in monthly bills of as much as $500. For a struggling family whose former breadwinner may be locked up, that’s a lot of money just to stay in touch with a loved one.

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Mississippi DOC lowers phone call rates

The cost of inmate phone calls is now less than 4 cents per minute at all state-operated facilities in Mississippi, with the three privately ran prisons soon following suit.

The call rate is dropping from 11 cents per minute to .039 cents per minute under a new agreement with Global Tel*Link (GTL) Corp.

Alabama Department of Corrections has contracted with ICSolutions and charges $0.21 cents per minute in addition to the $3.00 charge that is applied anytime you add funds to the account.

“The reduced rate will make services even more accessible and affordable for inmates’ families and loved ones,” said Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall. “Family members will be able to stay in touch with their loved ones without worrying about the cost. We realize that family contact is very important for rehabilitation.”

The MDOC last dropped rates in March 2016 when the FCC mandated lower rates per minute for calls in prison systems.

From March 2016 to January this year, inmates made 3,599,018 calls and talked for 37,028,605 minutes at state-operated facilities, including the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and South Mississippi Correctional Institution.

In January alone, 188,764 calls were made, additionally the new contract calls for equipment and technology to aid the department’s efforts to control contraband cellphones inside prison walls.

So it begs the question, if Mississippi can do it, why can’t Alabama?

Depressed? Know the Signs and Solutions

By Stacia Ray & edited by admin
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health condition. Always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional with any questions you may have about your health or treatment.

Depression behind bars

For some people, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. But for others, they bring a sense of loneliness and pain – especially behind bars. Its common for prisoners to experience depression around the holidays, so its important to know the signs and learn the tools to cope.

Dr Karen Boortz, a psychologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, explains that sadness is a normal emotion that everyone experiences sometimes, usually in response to a difficult situation. Depression however, is “an abnormal state.” It makes you feel sad about everything and it doesn’t even require an outside trigger.

Signs of depression

Women with depression are more likely to experience severely low self-esteem, self-harm, anxiety, panic or eating disorders. But the normal stresses of adjusting to prison life can look like depression. So how can you tell whether you’re depressed or just a little “off”? In a nutshell, depression symptoms are abnormal and constant.

Dr Sarah Deweese, a psychologist at San Quentin Prison, says if the things that usually make you happy, no longer cheer you up, that might be a sign. “Look for clues that something doesn’t feel right, that you’re not yourself,” says Deweese. Pay attention if others seem concerned about your state of mind, because depression can distort your sense of reality and make it hard for you to realise that something is wrong.

Other symptoms of depression include: Lack of interest (feeling detached or numb); major change in weight or appetite; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; fatigue or agitation; feelings of worthlessness or shame; trouble concentrating or thinking straight; and thoughts of dying or suicide. Physical symptoms may include headaches, body aches, and digestive problems.
there are so many commercials on TV showing happy, perfect families, you can feel very alone

Reasons for Prison Depression

The largest factor leading to depression behind bars, Boortz says, is the separation from family, friends and community, a factor that gets even harder during the holidays. Deweese points out that we’re designed to be social creatures. “The holidays are a reminder that the family system, the bond with people you’re accustomed to being around, has been broken, so it makes sense that prisoners would feel a loss,” she says.

Dr. Lisa Herman, PsyD, LP, a psychologist, adds that things we see on TV or hear on the radio can also make the holidays harder. “There are so many commercials on TV showing happy, ‘perfect’ families, and traditionally the holidays are a time of the year focussed on family togetherness,” so when you don’t have that because you are in prison, away form family, “you can feel very alone.”

Other factors that can make depression worse include the lack of privacy, the constant noise, too much downtime and less access to support. Symptoms can be more severe during these winter holidays because the days are shorter and darker.

Ways to Cope

Ready for some good news? There are self-care tools that you can use when dealing with depression behind bars. Even if you’re not clinically depressed, these tips can help you get through a tough time.

  • Get the right sleep. Depression might have you up all night or sleeping all day. Going to bed at a decent hour and getting out of bed during the day can help improve your mood.
  • Eat well and exercise, outside if possible. Be kind to your brain and your body. Stay away from mood-altering substances (including caffeine), which can make things worse. Take a walk in the fresh air; sunshine can boost your mood.
  • Meditate. Deweese suggests reading and doing relaxing meditations (and even mini-meditations where you focus on your breathing, feel your heart and count your heartbeats for 30 seconds). Creative outlets like playing music or journaling can help too.
  • Set a goal. Find a daily activity like memorizing a chapter of the bible, or walking a certain distance everyday; start small (even as simple as doing 10 jumping jacks) and slowly increase the task when ready. Meeting a goal can help fight the feelings of worthlessness.
  • Connect. Isolation tends to make depression worse. If you can, connect with others who are going through the same thing. “Creating a makeshift family and talking with supportive fellow prisoners can help you feel much better,” Deweese says, Join an educational program or religious group. Turning to Jesus by praying and reading scripture can bring comfort, but its important to note that you can be a Christian and still struggle with depression.
  • Go easy on yourself. Use extra kindness towards yourself and others, remembering this time and these feelings – will pass.

Depression is not about weakness. “The brain is an organ, and just like any other body part is susceptible to illness or imbalance, so is our brain,” says Deweese. “And just like theres no shame in seeing a doctor if you need a cast on your leg, theres no shame in getting extra help if you’re depressed.