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A federal judge wants to know why 131 inmates with mental illnesses remain in solitary confinement


By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

A federal judge has ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to provide an update on why 131 prisoners with serious mental illnesses remain in solitary confinement even after a court order last year ordered the prison system to move them out of segregation when possible.

The request for information from Federal District Judge Myron Thompson on the 131 inmates comes after Thompson last week ordered the Department of Corrections to act on 21 other inmates who were being kept in solitary confinement for a significant amount of time. Thompson ordered ADOC to either take the inmates out of confinement or provide an update by last week.

ADOC complied with that order.

Last summer, Thompson ruled that Alabama prison mental health care was “horrendously” and constitutionally “inadequate.” One portion of his 300-page opinion found that ADOC kept inmates with serious mental illnesses in solitary confinement for far too long. Confinement has been shown to worsen mental illness and safety.

He found that they were left in segregation for weeks, often without even being able to see corrections officers for sometimes days. Without any contact, they received inadequate treatment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit last year with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, has been seeking more information on why so many people with serious mental illnesses have not been removed from solitary confinement. More than 152 people remained in confinement on the random days in December and January.

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The SPLC has asked for the judge to issue a temporary restraining order forcing the closure of the Bibb Correctional Facility’s solitary confinement segregation units. Thompson has denied that request in part, though ADOC has not yet filed a response to the motion.

More hearings are set for this week.


Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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