MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Citing years of inadequate mental health care provided to people incarcerated in Alabama prisons, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson has issued a sweeping remedial order that will require the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to remedy unconstitutional mental health services in the case of Braggs v. Dunn.
The opinion issued Monday by Judge Thompson acknowledged that, while some areas had shown improvement, “[s]erious problems with the provision of mental-health care in ADOC facilities persist in many of the remedial areas.” Judge Thompson highlights the impact on both correctional and mental health understaffing have on providing adequate care.
The ruling follows a seven-week trial during which ADOC asked the Court not to order remedies addressing the provisions of mental health services, claiming that it had improved its operations in the years since the Court found it liable for providing “horrendously inadequate” mental health care for those incarcerated within its main facilities, and has made efforts towards resolving its chronic understaffing. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP), Anil Mujumdar, King & Spalding, and Hogan Loevells, presented evidence that current horrific and inhumane conditions inside ADOC prisons continue to support the need for remedies and ADOC still fails to provide adequate mental health care to individuals who are incarcerated.
During the trial, attorneys for impacted individuals held in ADOC prisons called mental health and correctional experts who testified about the significant number of suicides occurring inside ADOC facilities, the lack of mental health services provided, and the extremely violent and chaotic environment that has exacerbated mental illness and suicidality. The scope of the hearing included an analysis of what remedies should be implemented to address the constitutional violations identified in Judge Thompson’s liability opinion.
The following is a statement from Ashley Austin, attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Judge Thompson’s decision requires ADOC to finally remedy the unconstitutional mental health care identified more than four years ago. This will ensure that the individuals held by ADOC will receive the mental health care they need – and are entitled to – as protected by the Eighth Amendment.
“As long as Alabama avoids addressing underlying societal issues that contribute to incarceration by over-incarcerating its population, Alabama must provide constitutionally adequate care for the human beings in its prisons. ADOC cannot simply warehouse people without providing for their basic needs. If ADOC is unable to operate adequately with the current staff and funds allotted to it by the State, population reduction must be the consideration – not denial of adequate services.”
The following is a quote from James Tucker, director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.
"As Judge Thompson reminds all Alabamians, once our state chooses to put a person in prison the state must provide a safe environment and adequate mental health care. Here, the state has failed to do so. Too many individuals have died because of the state’s failures. We look forward to working with the state and the court to make sure that individuals placed in prison are, at minimum, safe and receive the care they need. The court concludes by declaring, “Time is of the essence.” Time is indeed of the essence for every person still housed in our state’s prisons."
In 2014, the SPLC and ADAP sued ADOC and its leadership for systemically putting the health and lives of people incarcerated in Alabama prisons at risk by ignoring their medical and mental health needs, discriminating against those with disabilities, and violating due process rights. The claims related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and due process rights were settled. In 2017, Judge Thompson declared the mental health care system in Alabama prisons to be “horrendously inadequate” – an unconstitutional failure that has resulted in a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among those who are incarcerated. Monitoring by an external team of experts is expected to begin immediately to ensure ADOC complies with this latest order and people with serious mental health needs receive the care they need and that the Constitution requires.