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Lawsuit Filed Over Prison Health Care

By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY – The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Center, and the Alabama Department of Corrections have been in a back and forth over the last few weeks regarding claims of inhumane, illegal treatment of the State’s prisoners, resulting in the two nonprofits filing a lawsuit against the department yesterday in US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

The suit, which alleges violations of federal law, references several examples of what the groups consider systematic, unacceptable treatment of inmate patients. Listed below are some of those allegations, as compiled by the SPLC:

1.    The department has a policy and practice of not treating hepatitis C. In April, 2,280 prisoners in ADOC custody had been diagnosed with it, but only seven prisoners were receiving treatment. A prisoner at Holman Correctional Facility recently died of complications from hepatitis C.
2.    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.
3.    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 the right eye at the county jail. He has been told the lens won’t be treated because he still has one good eye.
4.    A prisoner a 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 has prescribed them. The prisoner’s blood clogged the stent, requiring emergency open-heart surgery to correct.
5.    Prisoners have been placed under “do not resuscitate” or “allow natural death” orders without their consent or knowledge.
6.    In some cases, the ADOC has left 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.

Most of these claims, as well as others, had been published by the nonprofit groups earlier this month in a report that relied on two years of prisoner interviews, facility visits, and medical records. When released, that report caught the attention of MHM and Corizon, private contractors who provide health care services in Alabama’s prison system. In a joint statement issued on the matter, the companies claim that the allegations made in the SPLC-ADAC report were completely unfounded, instead saying the report was an affront to the “excellence” of the prison health care system in the state.

“The Report issued by the SPLC is not an accurate representation of the Alabama prison system or the respective roles of MHM or Corizon within the system. More importantly, the Report is an affront to the excellence, dedication and compassion displayed by the individuals working within the Alabama prison system. Without these individuals, the Alabama prison system would fail,” the joint statement said.

ADOC Commissioner Kim Thomas also released a statement, alluding to MHM and Corizon’s claims that the report’s allegations were false, and further stating that the department is “proud” of the health care they provide, health care he says is better than being uninsured:

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“The Alabama Department of Corrections is proud of the health care we provide to inmates, health care which costs Alabamians millions of dollars each year and is better than health care given to most uninsured Alabamians. We have allowed the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program to come into our institutions, and permitted access to our facilities, records and offender interviews for more than two years in an effort to work with them on a variety of concerns after receiving a letter containing much of the same information included in their report. With an interest in working to resolve their concerns, we asked for clarification and additional information so we could fully understand their concerns and investigate the information they claimed to have received. Our requests for clarification and more information were, however, emphatically denied.”

“Regardless of how they [SPLC and ADAP] proceed, this department will remain committed to ensuring that every individual incarcerated in our system is confined in an environment that complies with the US Constitution,” it concluded.

With that statement from Commissioner Thomas came another reaction from SPLC, issued by Maria Morris, managing attorney of their Montgomery office, and the primary author of the group’s initial report on the prison health care issues.

“We are surprised and disappointed to hear that the Alabama Department of Corrections is proud of the health care delivered to prisoners, despite the systematic problems we have documents. They’ve known about the problem for years. We recognize that prison officials have to say some things for public consumption, but we are concerned about the commitment of officials to bring the standards up to a humane and constitutional level.”

This legal firestorm comes as the Alabama Department of Corrections takes heat from another nonprofit, the Equal Justice Initiative. That nonprofit, which represents indigent defendants in capital cases, has called for the resignation or removal of the warden of the St. Clair Correctional Facility, Carter Davenport, after a third inmate was murdered in just ten months.

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