In March 2016 an agreement was reached with the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to ensure that prisoners with disabilities receive treatment and services required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The trial for phase 2A of the lawsuit, focusing on mental health, starts on Dec. 5, 2016.
The trial for phase 2B of the lawsuit, focusing on medical care, is expected to be scheduled for 2017.
The Alabama Department of Corrections systemically put the health and lives of prisoners at risk by ignoring their medical and mental health needs and discriminating against prisoners with disabilities – violations of federal law by a prison system that has one of the highest mortality rates in the country. The SPLC and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed suit to end the deplorable conditions in Alabama prisons.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, describes how prisoners, including those with disabilities and serious physical and mental illnesses, were confined to prisons where discrimination and dangerous – sometimes life-threatening – conditions were the norm. Strokes, amputations and prisoner deaths that may have been prevented with proper care are detailed in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit cites numerous examples of conditions that threatened the health and lives of prisoners:
The department had a policy and practice of not treating hepatitis C. In April 2014, 2,280 prisoners in ADOC custody had been diagnosed with it, but only seven prisoners were receiving treatment. A prisoner at Holman Correctional Facility died of complications from hepatitis C.
A prisoner who had survived prostate cancer had a blood test indicating his cancer had probably returned, but no follow-up test was given until a year and a half later. By that time, the cancer had spread to his bones and was terminal. He died.
A prisoner stabbed 15 times with an icepick did not have his wounds cleaned or treated. Instead, he was placed in segregation for three months. He also suffered a cracked lens in his right eye at the county jail where he was held before being transferred to prison. He was told the lens won’t be treated because he still has one good eye.
A prisoner at St. Clair Correctional Facility with a history of heart problems had a new stent placed in his heart in 2012. Afterward, he was not given the necessary blood thinners at the prison, though the doctor had prescribed them. The prisoner’s blood clogged the stent, requiring emergency open-heart surgery to correct.
In addition, prisoners were placed under “do not resuscitate” or “allow natural death” orders without their consent or knowledge, according to the lawsuit. Moreover, although “do not resuscitate” forms refer only to not resuscitating prisoners experiencing cardiac arrest, the department relied on them to deny other treatment to prisoners with such orders.
The lawsuit also describes how the ADOC leaves prisoners with disabilities isolated and deprived of the care and accommodations they need. Several prisoners reported incidents where they were verbally or physically mistreated due to their disabilities, including guards taunting blind or wheelchair-bound prisoners about their disabilities.
Alabama had the most overcrowded prisons in the nation and spent one of the lowest amounts, per inmate, on health care. The prison system contracted with Corizon Inc. to provide medical care and MHM Correctional Services to provide mental health care. In 2012, when the ADOC released a “Request for Proposal” for a new health care contract, applicants were scored on a 3,000 point scale. Out of a possible 3,000 points, contract price accounted for a possible 1,350 points. Qualifications and experience counted for only 100 points.
The ADOC renewed its contract with Corizon in 2012, even though Corizon (the company providing health care in Alabama prisons since 2007) failed every major audit of its health care operations in Alabama prisons under its first contract with the state.
Shortly before filing the lawsuit, the SPLC and ADAP released a report on the conditions within Alabama prisons, Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination and Death Within Alabama’s Prisons. The report’s findings were based on inspections of Alabama prisons, interviews with prisoners and a review of medical records, depositions and media accounts as well as the policies, contracts and reports of the ADOC and two major contractors.