Prison system must report segregation data after suicides

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  — After a recent spate of suicides, a federal judge has ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to provide data on the number of mentally ill inmates who have been placed in segregation units.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued the order this week after attorneys for inmates asked him to intervene because of a high number of suicides.

Attorneys last week filed an emergency motion seeking to stop the state from placing prisoners with serious mental illnesses in segregation units. They argued the state was continuing to put inmates with serious mental illnesses in the isolated settings.

The request came after three suicides within four weeks in state prisons.

One of those inmates, Paul Ford, hanged himself last week in a segregation cell at Kilby Correctional Facility, attorneys said. The court filing said that Ford had a prior suicide attempt, and spent much of the last year in a restrictive setting or some form of crisis watch.

“The tragic trajectory of Mr. Ford’s final months underscores the dire threat of serious harm that isolation poses even to people not previously identified as mentally ill,” attorneys wrote.

Thompson in 2017 found that Alabama provided “horrendously inadequate” care for mentally ill inmates and ordered the state to improve conditions.

An inmate named Jamie Wallace killed himself weeks after testifying at the 2016 trial and describing past suicide attempts.

Ford had testified at a hearing last year about low staffing levels in state prisons.

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