Failing Mental Health in Alabama’s Prisons

Mental health services in the United States are not as readily available to all Americans as they should be. Low-income people with mental health issues are less likely to visit mental health treatment centers; similarly, people in rural areas are less likely to visit them, too.

It goes without saying, but incarcerated inmates in prison are incredibly underrepresented in both mental and physical health treatment. Most prisons do not allow a number of effective medications to help inmates live better, symptom-free lives, as they are at inflated risks for abuse. The state of Alabama’s prisons have recently been criticized for lacking proper mental health treatment services.

Prisons in the state of Alabama have been accused by a federal court for violating the Eighth Amendment, which states that “. . . cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.” The court case in reference, titled Braggs v. Dunn, composes 302 pages of evidence detailing the lack of sufficient mental health treatments.

Mr. Jefferson Dunn, the face of Alabama’s prisons, formally holding the title of Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, agreed with plaintiffs that current mental health treatments are lacking. Suicide rates have risen increasingly in the past two calendar years, along with more cases of self-harm and mental health symptoms overall getting worse.

Room in Alabama prisons are also considered inadequate, with 23,328 prisoners housed in September 2016, compared to a maximum holding capacity of 13,318 prisoners. This equates to an approximate occupancy rate of 175%, grossly exceeding the allowable limit. Staffing is also not doing as well as required, with too few counseling staff being available to deal with every prisoner’s mental health issues. Alabama prisons don’t even have enough room to segregate those who have harmed themselves or threatened to do so, resulting in more self-harm incidents than necessary.

Prisoners who threaten self-harm or suicide have been placed in unsafe areas, resulting in more danger to prisoners than necessary. This fact combined with others mentioned herein have collectively contributed to the failing state of Alabama’s prison system.

In order to meet the needs of Alabama’s currently lacking prisons, about $25 million dollars must be expended towards the system to meet legally-mandated requirements, according to Alabama senator Cam Ward.

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