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.”

 

Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke and thats not the half of it…

Alabama Department of Corrections likes to put out numbers concerning the amount they spend on inmates healthcare, but they are lies. We have to fill out a sick call for each thing that is wrong with us, and pay $4.00 each time. Any over the counter medicine given to us costs $4.00 for each medicine.

Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke
Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke

For example, if we sign up for a cold, we are charged $4.00 for the visit, $4.00 for the Ibuprofen, $4.00 for the Sinus pills, and $4.00 for the decongestant. They rarely give out antibiotics. We have to sign up at least 3x before we can see the nurse practitioner or Doctor. When we have an accessed tooth, they put us on the Dental waiting list, sometimes it takes 2 months before you see the Dentist, and then you have to be given antibiotics to get rid of the infection, before the tooth can be pulled.

We’ve had girls with their cheeks swollen 3x the normal size because of an accessed tooth and yet health care will not let them see the Doctor to get started on an antibiotic, whilst waiting to see the Dentist.

Those on chronic care for high blood pressure, have to pay $4.00 if we feel that our blood pressure is up and ask to have our blood pressure checked. If you complain about the healthcare at Montgomery Women’s Facility too much, they will send you back to Tutwiler, where no one wants to go. Its their way of punishing us for speaking out against their mistreatment. We call healthcare, deathcare and most of us try to avoid their type of care.

Correctional Medical Services, which later became Corizon, held the contract from 2007 to 2012. ADOC awarded Corizon the healthcare contract in 2012, through to Sept. 30, 2017, under extension, it was the only company to submit a bid. The $181 million extension will bring the total cost of the contract to $405 million. State funds pay 100 percent of the cost. So why the hell are inmates forced to pay for each appointment despite having to wait in some cases months to see a healthcare professional and then pay extortionate prices for over the counter medicine which cost pennies in the free world and where the hell are they supposed to get the money from in the first place?

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program have sued Alabama Department of Corrections, over the failure to provide adequate medical care, mental health care and accommodations for the disabled violates the constitution and federal law. Despite ADOC claiming their “healthcare” is adequate, it has agreed to improve conditions for inmates with disabilities, the lawsuit is ongoing and in fact, The SPLC, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and the law firm of Baker Donelson have asked a federal judge to certify its lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) as a class action, which would allow rulings in the case over the inadequate medical and mental health care of 43 prisoners named in the lawsuit to apply to the 25,000 people held in a prison system that has had one of the highest mortality rates in the country.

 

Despite talks of reform, Alabama’s prisons remain deplorable

Article Originally published here on January 09, 2017 at 3:35 PM, updated January 09, 2017 at 3:39 PM
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)

By Dr. Larry F. Wood, retired clinical and correctional psychologist

I spoke out on the prison reform issue two years ago after working in Tutwiler women’s prison as a prison psychologist. Even after 25 years of professional experience in prisons, I was unprepared for the immensity of the problems. In particular, mental health and medical care were severely inadequate. The administration of the prison was unprofessional and abusive. Two years ago, I described the prison environment as a culture of abuse.

In the past two years, a federal investigation has continued and a trial is under way. The State of Alabama continues to deny that the conditions are unconstitutional. No substantial improvements or program changes have been announced. Governor Bentley has focused on borrowing money to build more prisons.

I have been disappointed that little seems to have happened over the past two years. State Senator Cam Ward has spoken eloquently on the subject, but there seems to be no political will to address the problem directly.

One core of the problem is the simple overuse of imprisonment to deal with social problems other than aggressive criminality. The most extreme example is mental illness. State hospitals were closed because of abusive conditions and now, most of the seriously mentally ill in our state are in prisons. Many other inmates are intellectually inadequate, socially unskilled, or drug addicted. Many were traumatized by a lifetime of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Prisons were initially used to control and punish the overtly dangerous. Their role has been expanded over many years to include the chronically disruptive in society. Such people are arrested numerous times and are backed up in county jails, waiting for beds to house them in prison. Prison, as a punisher, is not appropriate or effective for many such inmates.

Simply stated, Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded because too many people are being held in expensive, high security lockups. If our prisons were reduced to recommended population levels, they could be operated safely and professionally. Minimum security facilities with focused treatment and programs would be far less expensive than prisons for most inmates.

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Orientation 101!

Inmate 1: Excuse me, I just got here, could you tell me what the Warden’s name is?

Inmate 2: Oh sorry, we do not currently have a warden

Inmate 1: Well, I need to see Classification, what do i do or who do i have to talk to?

Inmate 2: Oh, well sorry bout that too, we don’t have one of those either. Well really, we have nothing, talk to the Cptn, Lt or Sgt, thats pretty much it.

Orientation 101 at Montgomery Women's Facility
Orientation 101 at Montgomery Women’s Facility

Inmate 1: Can the Captain, Lt or Sgt’s help me get my custody, so i can go to work to start paying on my fines?

Inmate 2: Well, No, and didn’t you tell me you have a Manslaughter conviction? Yeah, Well, Min-Out is as low as you can go, So really Classification or no one for that matter will help you.

Inmate 1: Your serious? Okay, well, how do things work around here? Canteen, Laundry, Law Library or GED? What can i expect to see today?

inmate 2: Well, its never consistent. Day to day is very confusing. See, right now we don’t have a canteen supervisor, so the lady from the PMOD Dept, of the business office comes when she feels like it. Its never a set time, Oh and she doesn’t always fill your whole order, especially if you write on the back of the ticket. Yeah the tickets have to be reused. The laundry is open daily from 6:30 – 4:00. Its crazy too though because its located outside and you have to be dressed & have shoes on to go. Sometimes you get requests filled quickly, but most of the time it takes a while to get your request for clothing filled. The Officer over that is busy doing a lot of other jobs and they usually don’t have the most popular sizes. Also, the law library is very out dated, it is not very helpful.

If you have to have your GED, good luck. The materials are old, there is no supervision during the day, the prison really don’t consider it a priority, so good luck. Its really chaotic here because no one is on one accord. There is a big lack of communication here.

Inmate 1: Does this place at least have a Chaplain? Someone i can talk to about issues with me, family or my beliefs?

Inmate 2: Well, yes & no. Theres no staffed Chaplain here. There is 2 very sweet ladies from We Care that volunteer here a couple of days a week. Its not really confidential to talk to them, see they sit up at the front tables in the day area, where the TV is, so its noisy and sometimes crazy. We don’t have a Chapel. We use the rooms in the shift office when available. Not a lot of groups get to come through. Catholic services & Jehovah’s witnesses is only once a month. Most of the services are groups from Church’s the officers attend. There is no one to send requests to, for Religious materials and the Religions Medalions, only work release can get them sent in. If you already have a cross from Tutwiler, you many get to keep it, depending on the officer’s, they all do it differently.

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Mental illness and depression – An untitled letter from an inmate at Montgomery Women’s Facility

In the middle of a major breakdown…while attempting to quit smoking…I was trying to hear the voice of God…I wanted to hear “I love you”…Instead i hear the laughter of demons, taunting me…telling me that i am not loved…I am alone, I am forgotten…God is not real…look around…These women have been crying out to him for years…decades…Do you truly believe he’ll come to rescue you?

Mental illness and depression - An untitled letter from an inmate at Montgomery Women's Facility
Mental illness and depression – An untitled letter from an inmate at Montgomery Women’s Facility

He has yet to answer their call for help…You are ugly, unwanted, stupid, evil and poor…You are lower than any bit of scum on the earth. When the Officer yelled at me, I snapped…Instantly…I went back to hiding behind the couch…watching my dad scream at my mom and choke her, mercilessly…I tried to isolate myself to prevent this from happening…I tried to free my mind from the demons that held it hostage…I tried to rid myself of the memories of my dead best friend and her brutal murder…

I tried to lift myself out of depression caused by hearing my little sisters call for help…She’s homeless with a 7 year old and a 2 week old baby…She’s also trying to heal from the abuse from her new borns father…I don’t understand…Why do we have to pay for everything we’ve done wrong? Why do we have to pay for the pain that others have caused us? My dad doesn’t have to pay for abusing me, my siblings and my mom…my dad’s sister doesn’t have to pay for molesting me when i was 4 years old…The 2 men that raped me while i was drunk don’t have to pay…The man that raped and sodomized me doesn’t have to pay either…I do. And i continue to lose while paying big.

It doesn’t matter what i do…good or bad. I never win. I keep trying to move forward from the past…Its hard…These Officers are paid to make sure I’m “Safe and secure” but, they only come for one reason and one reason only: To abuse me, continually. I have no room for error, their rules change constantly and each Officer has their “Personal” set of rules…90% of the staff is authoritarian, so even asking them for a basic need angers them…They’ll just start barking commands. Theres nowhere to run, hide or turn…Mental health will only keep telling me I’m “Psychotic”…Im safest in my bed…The very place my soul began to die…The only thing i can do is pray the same prayer I’ve prayed, way before i thought about committing a crime: “Dear Jesus, please take my life…I don’t want to be selfish and take my own life, so please Lord, let me die…Amen”.

Letter transcribed by admin

The warden refuses to listen to cries for help.

I was just released form the Montgomery Women’s Facility yesterday, 06/07/2016. The medical staff there has got to be the worst in the world. I spent 1 1/2 years in pain and sick only to find out last month I had “some kind” of mass in my side. I was given meds that I was allergic to, causing serious side effects. I have witnessed individuals become ill and need immediate attention and told to put in a sick call.

The heat inside the warehouse is over 100 degrees as we speak. Yet when organizations offer to donate a/c systems they are turned down even though women are falling out with heat exhaustion. Rules change not just on a daily basis but on the same shift from officer to officer. Why? Because the officers are allowed to run this camp, not a warden.

This facility is supposed to be for work release, yet over half are not. This facility currently houses 300 people in an 75 x 95 tin building. It is filthy, over run with rats, roaches and flies. The septic system must be emptied at least once a month and the fumes are toxic. There is a constant gas leak outside the building that causes nausea and head aches.

The water is from the prison next door and is constantly being shut off. State jobs are not assigned to age appropriate individuals. Often women over 50 will be put on outside/inside grounds working harder than some men. Not only are women punished for infractions with write ups they then must do extra duty. Does not matter if you are smoking in an unauthorized area or have a dirty urine the punishment is the same.

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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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