Staffing changes in Alabama state prisons

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ALABAMA - The Southern Poverty Law Center would like the number of correctional officers and beds for inmates who are mentally ill to increase in Alabama state prisons.

The organization has been in negotiations with the Alabama Department of Corrections since 2017 when a judge ruled that ADOC's treatment of mentally ill patients was unconstitutional.

In December, both parties filed court documents showing the latest turn in the negotiations.

In the latest filing to the court, ADOC laid out the number of inmates in need of residential mental health treatment. The total for men and women facilities combined is 405.

"We want to be sure that one, ADOC is actually identifying inmates that need that level of care. And two, that there are enough beds for those people," said CJ Sandley, Senior Staff Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center.

But the state disagreed, saying in a court filing "ADOC does not require additional residential-level mental health treatment space. as of December 12, 2019, no inmate was waiting for placement in a residential treatment unit or stabilization unit."

The Southern Poverty Law Center says they think the number of beds needs to be increased.

But at this point, the SPLC's main concern is,  "The lack of progress ADOC has made in hiring correctional staff period," Sandley said.

According to ADOC's latest report to the court, there have been areas of staffing that have decreased.

From June to September they lost 41 correctional officers with a total of 1041.

They also saw a decrease in 47 cubical correctional officers with a total of 117 in September.

But they did see a jump in basic correctional officers. They counted an additional 126 to have a total of 182. But questions have been raised about the effectiveness of BCOs.

Court documents say ADOC began hiring for the basic correctional officer position in 2019. The documents explain the position does not require firearms training, the same amount of pre-service training or the physical fitness requirements of a correctional officer.

The SPLC plans to file court documents to explain their thoughts on the newly created position in January.

Sandley says the effort to increase mental health care and safety at jails doesn't stop with this lawsuit. They hope sentencing reforms in the future could help decrease populations in Alabama's prisons.

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