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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Alabama’s prisons don’t have working fire alarm systems

Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com) (JULIE BENNETT)
Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com) (JULIE BENNETT)
 By Christopher Harress | charress@al.com article originally posted here

Not one of Alabama’s 15 state prisons has a functional fire alarm system, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, who spoke to lawmakers earlier this week about overcrowding inside state correctional facilities.

“It’s pervasive in our system … that we have deficiencies in our fire alarm systems,” said Dunn. “So what we do, we have corrections officers posted throughout and if there’s an issue, we do it through a verbal system. Obviously, we have procedures if we have a fire to evacuate either portions or all of the facility but the aural fire alarms, we have deficiencies around the state.”

The revelation comes during a trying time for the state’s prisons. The system is at approximately 180 percent of capacity while the number of correctional officers required is dangerously low, according to previous AL.com reporting.

In 2016, Governor Robert Bentley put forth what’s known as the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative (APTI), a plan to build four mega prisons at a cost of $800 million. While the initiative passed through both the House and the Senate, it did not gain final approval. In the coming session this year it’s expected that Bentley will raise the issue again with some amendments to help it pass.

Dunn conceded that other problems did exist in terms of infrastructure and health and safety. “I think the salient point is that (failing fire alarms are) just one of a dozen things that we face,” Dunn said. “While I don’t disagree about the fire system, you’ve got problems with electrical, you’ve got problems with plumbing, you’ve got problems all over that need to be addressed.”

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Raw sewage backing up and spilling onto bathroom floors

Several complaints have been made since raw sewage started backing up and flooding the bathroom floors in as many months. The Officers make the women contain the flow of effluent by placing blankets and towels under the doors. They are then made to fish out any large foreign objects like sanitary towels, from the toilet bowel by hand.

It is often days before an external contractor is called to attend and remedy the problem. Apart from the obvious health risks associated with raw sewage, flies plague the bathroom whilst the women are trying to wash and brush their teeth, having flies landing on their person and their belongings.

This is clearly a severe health risk and wrong on so many levels. If your loved one reports to you that the sewage is over flowing again, and the Officers response is indifference, please contact the Alabama Department of Public Health via this form immediately. Also, you may want you can contact Carla Ward on 205.244.2001 email USAALN.CivilRights@usdoj.gov she is a member the Department of Justice team that is investigating the appalling conditions in Alabama prisons.

 

 

 

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.

 

Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program

Alabama Department of Corrections started a grievance against Officers program. We inmates can file grievances against Officers who abuse us and/or abuse their positions. Lt. Bendford is our grievance Officer and she rules on all complaints. She’s been working with the same Officers and supervisors for years.

Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program
Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program

She even goes out to lunch with some of them. She has committed some of the same offences that grievances state, another has done. How can she be objective and unbiased? She can’t.

Every grievance filed against her co-workers are “unfounded”. We are discouraged and pray that the Feds will take over. Every person who works here needs to be removed.

We pray a Fed takeover because that’s our only hope at justice.

 

Transcribed from a letter by an inmate, identity withheld in fear of retaliation

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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Good behavior often goes overlooked in prison

Out of approximately 300 women that are held in Montgomery Women’s Facility, its estimated that 80% are active drug users. This includes smokers of Marijuana and Spice, alcohol can be obtained and even intravenous drugs are acquired and consumed.

How is this right? How is this allowed or even possible you may well justifiably enquire? The answer is insidiously simple. The officers know who the troublemakers are and they tend to let them get away with illicit activities to keep the peace among the inmate population. Inmates who maintain model conduct in order to have an impeccable institutional record are unable to distinguish themselves in any significant way because the correctional officers pays them no mind. Simply put, It doesn’t pay to be good.

Good behavior often goes overlooked in prison. Let me re-state that again, Good behavior often goes overlooked in prison.

Women bond in groups, some women adopt a “state child”,  often younger inmates they show the ropes to, someone that they can share their experiences with and they help to steer them out of troubles way, they show them how to adapt and to maintain some semblance of a normal life during their incarceration, they get called mom, it builds that family unit so often craved, caused by the want and desire of being a parent, but being absent from their own biological offspring. Some officers have “state children”too, that they use to do their bidding.

Some women become “gay for the stay” entering into relationships, not always sexual, but a relationship none the less, often fulfilling the role desperately sought outside of prison walls, some women revel in the limelight, being wanted, desired, cared for, provided for…some will engage in sexual activities, some will have sex with officers, after all, they know the best times and the best places in order to make it happen, in some cases its exciting, for some its done for extra privileges or extra canteen purchases, for most, they are a pawn in a game of abusive power. Knowing which groups to socialise with and those which should be avoided at all costs soon becomes apparent and before long you will probably find yourself having to choose, before the decision is made for you.

Montgomery Women’s Facility is considered a work camp although it does hold women up to the medium custody level. That means that it used to be considered a privilege to serve your time there. Approximately 10-15% of the women there go to work everyday in regular jobs. They work in fast food restaurants, hotels and the like. Alabama Department Of Corrections (ADOC) charges each inmate that works, $5 per day for the ride to work in one the several vans. The van can hold approximately 13 inmates, thats a lot per day just in van rides. Then ADOC takes 40% of the net pay inmates salary, in order to recuperate court costs, fines and restitution.

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No Warden, No Classification Officer and Now, No Canteen Lady

Montgomery Women’s Facility has been without a full time Warden since Mr Edward Ellington left to take over at Draper Correctional Facility in March 2016. Wardenship passed temporarily to Warden Terrance during which time conditions within the facility took a drastic turn for the worse, Ms Terrance left in August and the Captain has been acting as warden since.

Alabama Department of Corrections staffing woes and their impact, are still negatively felt throughout all aspects of ADOC, it has been reported that at other facilities, Correctional Officers have gone on strike citing the dangerous conditions that are festering as the upper echelons of Alabama Department of Corrections struggle to get a grip on a system that is failing from the top all the way down. Its not just an issue of safety and security, the absence of a classification officer as at Montgomery Women’s Facility increases stress, tension and creates an additional bottleneck in an already dangerously over crowded prison system, people that have served their sentences, especially those that are considered long-timers should be high on the list of priorities as they approach their parole and end of sentence dates.

Classification Officers are supposed to interview and assess amongst other things the custodial level biannually, effectively allowing those that have a low enough custody level, to be able to work and be in preparation for their release. Having no classification officer is a serious issue and it keeps women held on higher custodial levels than which they are entitled too, in an already over populated, neglectful and abusive prison system, common sense you would have thought, would be a priority, facilitating the lowering of custodial levels to those eligible, effectively freeing up bed space and hastening the transition back into society, not to mention raising moral, giving hope to those that have often served many years from dubious convictions.

Bear in mind too, that Alabama cases are difficult for many reasons, for example Post-conviction records are exceptionally hard to obtain in Alabama, and there is no specific post-conviction DNA testing statute except in capital cases. New evidence often must be brought before a court within six months of discovery, which can be extremely difficult and at times, impossible. Alacourt.com controls public court records in Alabama and charges exorbitant access fees, making the records virtually inaccessible to those incarcerated or their families which are generally on low incomes, Alabama needs to rethink its policy on locking people up and throwing away the keys, giving fair hearings, trials and sentences would be a great start.

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