State’s mental health assessments for prisoners still inadequate, federal judge says

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections has a week to come up with a way to address a lack of mental health assessments that a federal judge amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

In an opinion filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Judge Myron Thompson wrote there was evidence the Alabama Department of Corrections was not conducting adequate mental assessments of prisoners in segregation, and that “this failure has contributed to the ADOC defendants’ violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

Previously the court has ruled that the state corrections department was violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed the suit to end what they called “deplorable” conditions in Alabama prisons.

On Friday, the SPLC said that 13 inmates have committed suicide in Alabama prisons in the last 14 months.

Corrections officials failed to provide risk assessment for suicidal inmates, segregation of mentally ill inmates which led to further injury and a failure to respond to the widespread problems in the system, Thompson ruled in 2017.

Thompson’s latest opinion filed Monday states that the state has failed to periodically assess prisoners in segregation, and that the failure has created a “substantial risk of serious harm for those prisoners.”

Both sides in the case have until Feb. 18 to submit a joint report of suggestions on how to address the problem.

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