HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The future of mental healthcare in Alabama prisons is the topic on the table in a Montgomery courtroom this week. This is about the Southern Poverty Law Center's ongoing dispute with the state's department of corrections.
This week's hearing is the first of three to determine how the state will fix constitutional violations in Alabama's prisons. Back in June, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a 302-page ruling, calling the mental health care system in the prisons "horrendously inadequate."
The judge identified areas in which he said the Alabama Department of Corrections failed inmates, from not identifying mental health needs to inadequate treatment for suicidal prisoners. Thompson said the key issue is "persistent and severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional staff, combined with chronic and significant overcrowding."
The court ordered state officials to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center to come up with a plan that would reform the system. They drafted a plan to solve the issues. Over the next few months, there are a series of hearings to see if the plan is adequate in hopes of fixing the constitutional violations regarding inmates' care.
This week's hearing is specifically on correctional and mental health under-staffing in prisons. The date for the next two hearings haven't been scheduled yet. They deal with access to inpatient care in the prisons and segregation. The judge accuses the system of disciplining mentally ill prisoners for their symptoms, and separating them from other inmates for long periods of time.