Alabama Inmate Testifies In Trial Against Inadequate Prison Mental Health Care, Commits Suicide A Week Later

By Victoria Kim 12/22/16

Wallace was the first inmate to testify as part of a class action lawsuit against the state for failure to provide proper mental health treatment to inmates.

Man sitting on a bed in a small room of a dark prison.

Just over a week after testifying in a federal trial concerning the dismal treatment of inmates in need of mental health support in Alabama’s state prison system, an inmate at Bullock County prison was found dead in his cell—an apparent suicide by hanging.

Jamie Wallace, who was serving a 25-year sentence for murdering his mother in 2009, was found dead on the night of Dec. 15, ten days after he gave testimony in court detailing the inadequate mental health care he experienced as a state prisoner. 

The 24-year-old testified (Dec. 5) as part of a class action lawsuit brought by inmates against the state. The lawsuit claims the state is in violation of the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment, by failing to provide adequate care for inmates in need of mental health treatment. 

Inmates suffering mental health issues are allegedly ignored or placed in solitary confinement, according to the lawsuit. 

Wallace himself testified that he had multiple psychiatric disorders, describing himself as “mildly retarded” with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. Wallace said he had tried to hang himself before, and had repeatedly cut and harmed himself. He was finally seen by a mental health professional after being placed in a “crisis cell” for inmates with similar problems.

Other inmates involved in the lawsuit recounted similar experiences. In a statement by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the inmates in the trial, another inmate described making multiple suicide attempts before he could speak with a mental health professional who ultimately was not much help.

Wallace’s death in the second week of trial “highlights the gross inadequacies of the mental health care system in Alabama prisons,” said attorney Maria Morris of SPLC. 

SPLC goes into more graphic detail about the conditions in Alabama prisons, which includes seeing prisoners segregated in “barren ‘Suicide Watch Cells’ who had been kept there for months on end, and a prisoner residing in complete darkness, lying on an office floor in a room labeled ‘Mental Health’ and urinating in a plastic bucket.”

Morris says the solution to the lack of mental health support in prisons is to “reduce Alabama’s swollen prison population, caused by harsh sentencing that have given the state the third highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the country.”

“Alabama’s failure to provide mental health care to the people it incarcerates puts lives at risk,” said Morris. “This lack of treatment is inhumane and unconstitutional. No one in an Alabama prison was sentenced to this kind [of] suffering.” 

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