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Alabama proposes doubling prison mental health staff, doesn’t have money to do it

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Department of Corrections has proposed nearly doubling its mental health staff as one of the corrective actions to satisfy a federal lawsuit.

Federal Judge Myron Thompson, earlier this year, ruled the state had run afoul of the law by failing to provide adequate care for prisoners with mental health disorders. Thompson said Alabama’s prisons were “horrendously inadequate.”

Instead of ordering a number of corrective actions, Thompson instead agreed to allow the state, SPLC and other interested parties to work together on a reasonable solution to the problems.

On Monday, attorneys for the state made their first substantial offer: Employing an additional 125 workers at a cost of more than $10 million per year.

“It’s a good first step,” Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday at a press event in Montgomery. The governor noted that Thompson’s order listed a number of other issues that must be addressed.

Lawmakers expect the total cost of the prison mental health reform to be massive, and they have no idea where the money might come from. Ivey, on Tuesday, said it was an issue she would have to “study,” but said she felt confident that the state would find a way to pay its bills.

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The proposal presented to the court on Monday notes specifically that the money to pay for the increase in personnel isn’t currently available and is contingent upon the legislature and governor allocating the appropriate funds.

They will also have to increase funding for corrections officers, since understaffing was also part of Thompson’s order. Currently, teams of consultants are evaluating each state prison and should make recommendations on staffing levels prior to a Nov. 13 hearing.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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