AL Case on Prisons, Mental Illness Going to Trial

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A non-jury trial is scheduled for next month on claims that the Alabama prison system provides substandard care for mentally ill inmates, reports As many as 40 or 50 prisoners could testify. Bill Van Der Pol of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program said the prison system fails to identify mental illness in many inmates and understates the severity of illness in others. “It is a grossly inadequate system,” Van Der Pol said. The lawsuit alleges that mental health care for prisoners is so poor that it violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Maria Morris of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents the inmates, said some mentally ill prisoners receive medication and little else and are confined to segregation for extended periods. She said inmates who threaten self-harm and suicide are not appropriately dealt with and that there aren’t enough professionals to provide mental health care. The lawsuit is just one concern for a prison system that state officials acknowledge is overcrowded and understaffed and that has been plagued by violence against inmates and employees. As of September, Alabama prisons were filled to 175 percent of capacity, with 23,328 inmates in facilities designed for 13,318. The number of inmates had declined for eight straight months and is down by about 1,000 from the start of the year.


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