SPLC, victims’ families demand comprehensive ADOC reform as suicide toll increases

Following another suicide of a person under the care of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) this week, victims’ families, their attorney, and representatives from the SPLC met on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol today, urging state officials to address the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

The latest suicide on Wednesday marked the thirteenth time in the last 14 months that a person under ADOC’s care has taken their own life.

Under a staffing analysis that ADOC provided to a federal court, the agency must hire 2,261 new corrections officers and 130 new corrections supervisors by February 2022, in order to meet basic legal and safety standards for both officers and incarcerated people.

The move would add over $100 million annually to the ADOC budget. Yet there is little evidence that ADOC is on track to meet those benchmarks. Nevertheless, news reports indicate that Gov. Kay Ivey and ADOC staff are preparing to build three mega-prisons, at a cost of $1 billion or more.

In June 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson declared the mental health system in Alabama prisons to be “horrendously inadequate,” an unconstitutional failure that led to what Thompson called a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among incarcerated people. Thompson’s ruling followed a two-month trial in the SPLC’s ongoing lawsuit against ADOC. 

“Since a federal court found that mental health care in ADOC facilities was grossly inadequate in the summer of 2017, ADOC has continued to fail to provide adequate protection for suicidal people in its custody,” said Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC. “The result is that Alabamians under the supervision of ADOC, many of whom suffer from mental illness, hopelessness, and despair and are not receiving the resources they need, have taken their own lives. ADOC should take action. They need to step up and treat this like what it is – a life-and- death emergency.”

Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, said: “The Legislature must solve this emergency because Governor Ivey and (ADOC Commissioner Jefferson S. Dunn) have been derelict in their duty. Every year without action, the crisis deepens and grows more expensive and harder to fix. The costs to the state of Alabama will grow and we will continue to mourn the deaths of incarcerated people who did not receive constitutionally required care.”

Photo Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser