Contracts to improve Alabama prison’s mental health capacity, staffing issues approved

Contracts to improve Alabama prison’s mental health capacity, staffing issues approved

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Joint Legislative Contract Review Committee approved two contracts on Thursday for the Alabama Department of Corrections, involving its settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over conditions at Julia Tutwiler Women’s Prison and mental health services.

An increase of $174,912 and a one-year extension was approved on an ADOC contract with Massachusetts-based Kathleen Dennehy to monitor staffing and operations at Tutwiler as part of the DOJ’s settlement in 2015.

A representative for ADOC said at the meeting on Thursday that they had reached 41 of the 44 provisions agreed upon in the settlement.

Two of the remaining provisions involve staffing issues and audio improvements to the prison’s video surveillance system.

A representative for ADOC said Tutwiler was at 68% staffing and would need to reach and hold at least 85% for the DOJ to be satisfied.

The addition to that contract now brings the total to $874,563. It runs through September 2021.

The second contract was a one-year extension with Citizens Baptist Medical Center in Talladega, which provides in-patient mental health care for ADOC’s inmate population.

The spokeswoman said while this extension didn’t require additional funds the contract with Citizens Baptist has a $20 million limit.

The contract enables ADOC to reserve 14 beds in the hospital’s psychiatric ward for ADOC inmates only. She said currently there are four inmates using their services and the most beds they’ve ever had occupied were nine.

ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose told ADN that the contract with Citizens Baptist was reached through a competitive procurement process to comply with a court order stemming from an ongoing lawsuit against the prison system over conditions and health care.

“Inmates in severe crisis or who require a level of mental health care beyond what is possible to effectively deliver within ADOC’s current mental health units are transferred to Citizens and treated in a hospital, or inpatient, setting,” Rose said.

ADOC has a separate contract with Wexford Health Services to provide all of the mental health services inside Alabama prisons.

Committee chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told ADN that he believes much more still needs to be done to improve ADOC’s mental health issues but thinks that staffing is the bigger issue at hand.

“I would love to be able to zero in on mental health but the biggest thing, if there is one issue that we need to get resolved is staffing,” Albritton said. “We’ve got to hire more people and why haven’t we and why can’t we. Those questions have not been completely answered yet.”

In June, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said ADOC was behind in fulfilling the court-ordered staffing increase of 3,326 officers by February 2022. In June, ADOC had only increased the number of correctional officers from 1,301 to 1,413 in 12 months.

As of Thursday evening, 322 ADOC employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 185 are presumed to have recovered, according to ADOC’s COVID-19 dashboard.