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SPLC: Alabama’s prison system violated court order to increase mental health staffing

The SPLC will argue in court today that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) violated a federal court order to provide more mental health workers for people who are incarcerated in the state’s prison system.

Arguing that ADOC failed to meet multiple deadlines to provide the additional staffing, the SPLC is asking a judge to rule that ADOC be held in contempt of court for failing to fill crucial mental health care staff positions, and failing to inform the court of its inability to meet its legal requirements. 

The contempt hearing is scheduled for this morning in Montgomery, Alabama, before U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson.

“Adequate staffing is critical to address the mental health needs and secure the safety of the incarcerated people in ADOC’s care,” said Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC. “Time and time again, ADOC has failed to meet court-ordered deadlines to fill essential staffing positions. We have no confidence that ADOC is doing all it can to hire enough staff to care for incarcerated people with mental illnesses. We are asking the court to rule ADOC in contempt for continuing to fail to meet these court-ordered deadlines.”

Last summer, in a 302-page ruling, ADOC was found to be in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The court found that “persistent and severe shortages” of mental health care staff contributed to the prison system’s constitutional violations. Adding more mental health care staff is part of the remedy ordered by the court to address the constitutional violations.     

Government entities and officials who are found to be in contempt of court can face fines and, in some cases, jail time.   

The SPLC is asking that a monitor be appointed to oversee how ADOC is progressing, and to keep the court and the plaintiffs informed.