U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered Alabama to improve prison conditions for its mentally ill inmates on Tuesday, after finding the state’s prisons provide “horrendously inadequate” care for incarcerated people wth psychiatric problems. “Surprisingly,” the ruling reads, “the evidence from both sides…extensively and materially supported the plaintiffs’ claim.”
The ruling resulted form a class-action lawsuit filed in December on behalf of Alabama’s male prison population, who claimed they were being denied mental health care. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the prisons didn’t do much aside from dole out medication, and event then inmates were regularly forced to take it against their will, NPR reports.
One plaintiff, for instance, was locked away at least 23 hours a day on suicide-watch, a cruel restriction that, of course, only exacerbated his distress.
Maria Morris, senior servicing attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, told NPR, “The ruling means that prisoners with mental illness may finally get the treatment they have been denied for so long.”
Still, it’s not clear how exactly conditions for mentally ill prisoners will improve in Alabama, where prisons are terribly overcrowded and understaffed (in December, NPR notes, the state had 21 doctors servicing more than 23,000 inmates). Judge Thompson ordered in his ruling that all the parties to the case meet and discuss a remedy, but more talk and no action isn’t any good to those suffering behind bars.