Alabama leaders temporarily stop $10M prison contract

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama legislators have put a temporary hold on a $10 million contract between the state Department of Corrections and a company that could analyze prison needs and design new facilities.

Al.com reports the Legislature’s contract committee paused the plan Thursday amid questions about its reliability, considering construction plans for new prisons failed in 2016 and 2017. Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn says planning for new prisons is a better use of tax dollars than putting more money into older prisons that need to be replaced.

He says it would cost about $1 billion to build three new regional prisons, including one that can accommodate inmates with high-need mental health issues.

One committee member said the Legislature is unlikely to pass a $1 billion prison plan.

Article originally posted here

SPLC: Alabama prisons must address staffing needs and accept monitoring of failing mental health treatment

article published 10/20/2017 & originally posted here

An Alabama Prison
An Alabama Prison

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) must conduct a meaningful analysis of the staffing it needs to address an unconstitutionally inadequate level of care for prisoners who have mental illnesses, according to a brief filed in federal court yesterday by the SPLC.

ADOC will likely need more than double its current level of correctional staffing and nearly triple its mental health staffing, according to the brief. Additionally, the court should appoint security and mental health monitors to ensure that ADOC is carrying out the court-approved remedies, the brief states.

The filing is in response to a plan that ADOC proposed to the federal court last week, claiming that it would increase spending for mental health care workers – and would double staffing in those positions – but only if the state legislature provides enough funding next year.

“Compliance with the U.S. Constitution is not optional, and the state can delay no longer. Mental health staffing is woefully inadequate in ADOC prisons, and the flagrant constitutional violations that result must be addressed immediately in order to protect prisoners with mental illnesses from an ongoing risk of serious harm,” said Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “ADOC’s plan to remedy these glaring staffing deficiencies is vague, unsubstantiated and incomplete. It must address these issues now.”

The filing is the latest development in the SPLC’s ongoing litigation against ADOC for failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care for people in its custody. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson issued a sweeping, 302-page ruling in June declaring the mental health care system in Alabama prisons “horrendously inadequate.”

The court specifically found that “persistent and severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional staff” are among the overarching issues that contribute to the inadequacy of mental health care in ADOC prisons.

The court also found that ADOC’s mental health caseload is substantially lower than the national average, and that this failure to identify prisoners with mental health needs is the result of a number of factors, including “insufficient mental-health staffing.”

Recruiting and retaining adequate staff will take time and funding, but ADOC already has the authority and funding to hire some correctional staff right now. For example, ADOC does not need legislative approval to fill its existing, authorized staffing levels.

“Throughout this case, the court has repeatedly made it clear that lack of funds is not an excuse for ADOC’s failure to provide constitutionally mandated care to prisoners with mental illnesses,” Morris said. “ADOC officials have known for years that they need more staff, but they have delayed addressing the problem. Now, they want to delay even further, leading to more pain, suffering and possibly even death.”

Morris said: “The state has an immediate duty to hire enough qualified staff to address the crisis in care for the mentally ill. Over the long term, however, the only solution to this and other problems in the Alabama prison system is to decrease the prison population by getting people the help they need to stay out of prison in the first place. The state should ensure that people with mental illness get treatment, instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key.”

 

Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers
Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers

A city ordinance that criminalized the failure to pay a water bill was repealed by the city council in the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, last night in response to a Southern Poverty Law Center letter advising the city’s municipal judge that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers, 48, was convicted of a misdemeanor and ultimately jailed last year for more than a day after she was unable to pay her city utility bill.

Her water was turned off and she was ordered by the municipal court to pay more than $400 in fines and fees to the city. She also had to pay monthly supervision fees to Judicial Correction Services, a private, for-profit probation company. Ayers could not keep up with the payments and was arrested after failing to appear at a court hearing that she was not informed about.

“Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Yet this is exactly what happened in Chickasaw with an unconstitutional ordinance that harshly punished people for their poverty.

“The action by the Chickasaw City Council will ensure that residents will not be prosecuted or face criminal penalties when they simply cannot afford to pay for running water in their homes. It’s a step in the right direction.”

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Air Conditioning Is a Human Right

Jeff Edwards and Scott Medlock July 21, 2016

Air Conditioners are desperately needed throughout Alabama's prison system
Air Conditioners are desperately needed throughout Alabama’s prison system

Edwards and Medlock are trial lawyers with Edwards Law in Austin.

Texas, like other states, does not air condition its prisons—and by doing so, it kills people.

In 2011, the State of Texas convicted Larry McCollum of forgery, for passing a bad check. He was supposed to serve a short prison sentence of two years, then go home to his family. Instead, the conditions inside Texas prisons gave him a death sentence. He died of heat stroke—indoors.

Over 120,000 beds in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system do not have air conditioning, including the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas, where Mr. McCollum was imprisoned. As a result, the indoor heat index—the combination of temperature and humidity—frequently exceeds 100 degrees on hot summer days. Shortly before Mr. McCollum died, the Hutchins’ warden received multiple emails from the risk manager, who took a thermometer around to the dorms, stating the temperature inside the inmate dormitories reached 102 degrees by early afternoon, and that the heat index inside was likely 123. While Mr. McCollum baked inside his dormitory, his body temperature rose to 109.4. Eventually, his body began to seize, and he was hospitalized. When his wife and adult children were summoned, they learned his body temperature had permanently damaged his brain, and he would not survive.

According to the National Weather Service, in an average year, heat kills more people than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. In all, during the past 18 years, over 20 men have died with the cause of death of heat stroke inside prison buildings constructed and maintained by the State of Texas. Though the count is likely much higher: When temperatures go over 90 degrees, the medical risk of heat stroke increases markedly, and it can lead to other causes of death, especially for people with certain common medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, or who take certain medications, including most mental health prescriptions.

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Homewav Web Access Visitation at Montgomery Women’s Facility

In 2014, Montgomery Women’s Facility implemented a Web based Visitation System provided by Homewav. We are unsure as to how much Alabama Department Of Corrections takes in kickbacks, but CenturyLINK takes a cut of 40% of the extortionate $36 fee that is charged for a 60 minute “visit”. Homewav also charges a $1 handling fee every time money is added to the account so its effectively $37 for a 60 minute video call.

Whilst the idea of web based visitation is a good one if done ethically, Homewav certainly do not consider the inmates or their families in their business plan, all they care about is profit. For example, they claim that internet based visitation reduces the number of in-person visitation, by 75%  and the families of those incarcerated don’t understand how cutting in-person visits from family and friends is in anyway beneficial to them.

The benefits of visiting with family and other supportive individuals are well documented throughout literature, research, and from the voices of the incarcerated men and women and their families. In person visiting can build and strengthen family connections and provide hope and encouragement for those incarcerated, lets not even entertain the thought of removing it in order to provide these predatory companies with even more of your hard earned cash.

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Alabama prisons to improve treatment of inmates with disabilities

Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates' medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC's offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)
Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates’ medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC’s offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)

By Kelsey Stein – on March 16, 2016 at 9:52 AM, updated March 16, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Alabama inmates with disabilities will soon receive the necessary treatment and services, under a recent agreement between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Department of Corrections.

SPLC filed a lawsuit in June 2014 claiming that state officials knew about problems within the system but had not acted to bring conditions to a “humane and constitutional” level. The plaintiffs include 40 named inmates who offer details about their individual encounters with inadequate health care.

The agreement outlines steps ADOC will take to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A monitor will oversee the implementation of the agreement’s provisions.

“This agreement is an important commitment by the Alabama Department of Corrections to address the discrimination and hardship these prisoners have faced for far too long,” said Maria Morris, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “Prisoners with disabilities must have an opportunity to serve the sentence they have received – not the sentence they must endure because the state fails to respect their legal rights.”

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When i reported the abuse, i became an outcast amongst societies outcasts

Montgomery Women’s Facility (MWF) has more problems than a small camp such as this should have. Last month (February 2016) we had another one bite the dust. Our S.P.R (Pre-Release) Sgt. was escorted off premises for having sex with his charges, those female inmates under the S.P.R program. He wouldn’t report their dirty urines (Urine Tests) in exchange for sex.

An inmates account of the abuse that occurs at Montgomery Women's Facility
An inmates account of the abuse that occurs at Montgomery Women’s Facility

This month, March our canteen lady who is employed by the state, picked up a rock and threatened to hit the inmate who was at the window getting her canteen store. Nothing happened of course. She gets to treat us any kind of way, calling us names, cursing us and at times refusing to fill our canteen store because she doesn’t feel like it or is angry at us. Captain said she’ll “investigate” but she is just as crooked as the rest here, who works here.

Captain barters and trades with inmates, even calls some of them her “children”, showing favouritism to some inmates and then others she lets get abused by her officers. Today our visitation building was taken over by our Healthcare, that we call Death care. Their trailer has been condemned over a year and today we inmates who were having art class, we were kicked out and then made to move all the furniture (chairs, tables, a 1000 lb. piano) over to the shift office. The visitation building also held our classes as well as Church. Why can’t D.O.C purchase another building? Where is all the money they claim to have?

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We’re fed up with being treated like cattle at a slaughterhouse

In my entire life, i can count myself fortunate in the aspect that i’ve never had to go to bed hungry, never had to live in filth with roaches and rats, never had to know the humiliating sting of purposefully degrading comments from someone who is supposed to be here for my protection. That all changed the moment i entered the Alabama Department Of Corrections, unprofessional, racist and ineffective custody. Where to start?

Statement of the conditions in Montgomery Women's Facility
Statement of the conditions in Montgomery Women’s Facility

At over 200% capacity, the existing facilities to house ADOC (Alabama Department Of Corrections) inmates are derelict, unsanitary, ineffective and quite frankly dangerous. Julia Tutwiler prison is almost a century old and built to house no more than 400 inmates. ADOC shows no concern for their inmates safety, nor that of their officers or the surrounding publics by cramming over three times the intended maximum capacity in an 80+ year old building that should be condemned.

Montgomery Women’s Facility is no better. Currently MWF (Montgomery Women’s Facility) is a level II Camp designed to hold 150 work release inmates. Double the number of inmates & you’ll have current MWF count, with less than 40 actively working & exercising their custody. At the time this letter is being written, MWF has no warden & the officers are taking full advantage of that fact. They have no one to answer to and unprofessional conduct, retaliation for previous slights and racially motivated incidents run amok.

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Stop The Abuse. Please, We Need Outside Help

Here at Montgomery Women’s Facility we have been suffering sexual abuse, yet when we speak out we get ridiculed by our peers. Officers treat us like its our fault, we walk on eggshells fearing retaliation and the guilty Officers of abuse, are only transferred. Our story becomes well spread between the inmates and other Officers at the other female facilities – Tutwiler and Birmingham Work Centre.

Statement alleging systemic abuse at Montgomery Women's Facility
Statement alleging systemic abuse at Montgomery Women’s Facility

There is no peace for us anywhere. One woman spoke out here about her suffering of sexual abuse form an Officer as well as mental and emotional abuse from his co-workers and she became ostracised from inmates, from all 3 female facilities. The Officer she reported, told her if she ever told, he would make sure that she was protested at each parole hearing.

In Alabama, if one has protesters then the individual is denied parole and put off for 5 years. Here at Montgomery Women’s Facility we also suffer verbal abuse from Officers as well as employees who work here.The employee who runs our canteen, abuses us constantly. She has cursed some of us, calling us “bitches and hoes”. When we report her, she retaliates by “losing our store slip” and prevents us from getting our food and hygienes.

The other day, a girl left the canteen in tears after this employee called her a heifer and told the girl she could talk to her anyway she fashioned. Then a few minutes later this employee was yelling out another girl, telling her to get her greasy hair head away from her. These girls went to the Officer who is a Lieutenant, who is in charge of grievances against Officers/Employess and this Lieutenant told them that she didn’t have time for this trivial crap.

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