ADOC responds to SPLC’s claim state has prison suicide crisis

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The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has responded to claims by the the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that the state has a suicide crisis that demands immediate action.

The ADOC said the recent spike in suicides in an “on-going concern” and the department is actively working on a solution.

As reported by a number of media outlets today, 13 inmates in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections have died by suicide in the past 14 months. While the total number of recent suicides is significant, each suicide within an ADOC facility is a tragic and unfortunate event.  Each of these 13 suicides represents a different person who faced individual struggles and challenges that led to their death.  Nevertheless, the ADOC investigates every suicide and the circumstances surrounding each suicide to evaluate ways in which the Department can improve its existing suicide prevention program.

… The recent spike in suicides within ADOC is an on-going concern and will be addressed by the ADOC.  On March 8, 2019, an expert retained by the ADOC will issue a report (jointly authored with an SPLC expert) on recommendations on additional suicide prevention measures.  Once we receive this report, the ADOC intends to fully implement those measures that will ensure a long-term solution in the prevention of suicides.

The ADOC is referring to the deaths of 13 inmates in state custody have committed suicide in the last 14 months. In fact, in 2018  the suicide rate in ADOC facilities was higher than any previous year. And since since November 21, 2018, there has been an average of one suicide every 11.4 days in the ADOC, with two of those having been completed in 2019 – just eighteen days into the year.

Which is what led the SPLC to take action on Friday. The group, along with victims’ families and their attorney, met at the Alabama State House where they called on the ADOC, Governor Kay Ivey, and state legislators to immediately address the systemic mental health crisis and need for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

“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.”

On staffing, ADOC’s previous analysis provided to a federal court states it must hire 2261 new corrections officers and 130 new corrections supervisors by February 2022 to meet basic legal and safety standards for both officers and prisoners, which will add over $100 million annually to the ADOC budget. According to the SPLC, there is little evidence that ADOC is on a path to meet those benchmarks. Meanwhile, press reports indicate that the governor and ADOC staff are preparing to build three mega-prisons at a cost of a billion dollars or more.

“These men died senselessly from suicide because they did not get adequate care from the Alabama Department of Corrections,” added Mitch McGuire, attorney for many of the victims’ families. “That’s unacceptable and immoral, and their families will never replace them.”

“The Legislature must solve this emergency because Governor Ivey and Commissioner Dunn have been derelict in their duty,” said Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC. “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.

Despite the SPLC’s complaints ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn says he is focused on solving this problem.

“Our department is committed to providing appropriate care for those with mental illness and we have plan to address the conditions inside our prisons that hinder our ability to meet that commitment,” Dunn said. “In addition to increasing our mental health staff, we also are developing a prison revitalization plan that will consolidate the delivery of mental and medical health care in a new state-of-the-art health care facility.  More information about the plan will be made public in the coming days. I am focused on solving this problem.”

Suicides in ADOC from Dec. 2017 to Feb. 2019 (supplied by the SPLC):

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