MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Testimony began in a civil lawsuit over mental health treatment in Alabama’s prison system with a troubled inmate telling a federal judge a corrections officer handed him a razor blade and suggested he use it to commit suicide.
Jamie Wallace, 24, took the stand Monday in the first day of what is expected to be a lengthy, non-jury trial before U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.
Attorneys representing inmates in a class-action lawsuit claim that mental health care provided in Alabama prisons is so poor it violates the Constitution. The state denies the claims.
The Montgomery Advertiser ((http://on.mgmadv.com/2hdCWed ) reported that Wallace, who was held at Donaldson prison near Birmingham and suffers from bipolar disorder, ADHD, mild retardation and schizophrenia, testified that he wasn’t asked about his mental health status when he first entered prison.
He said he was taken off his Wellbutrin prescription, which helped him not hear voices in his head, and placed on a different medication for a 30-day trial period. “(Physicians at Donaldson) told me they couldn’t afford Wellbutrin,” Wallace said.
The new medications caused his temperament to decline. Wallace testified that he cut his wrists and neck multiple times and tried to hang himself, and that an officer enabled him to do so by providing him a razor.
“(Officer Hill) said, ‘You want to kill yourself? Here, do it with this,'” he said.
Mitesh Shah, an attorney representing the defendants, began laying the groundwork to impeach Wallace as a credible witness.
“You testified that you haven’t seen a psychiatrist in six months. That’s not true, is it? You have met with psychiatrists and counselors many, many times, haven’t you?” Shah asked.
Wallace answered that he was only seen by mental health professionals after he had been put in a crisis cell.
“Until I come to that crisis cell (mental health professionals) ain’t coming to see me worth a damn, sir,” Wallace said.
Shah did not get to complete his cross-examination because Thompson had the prisoner removed from the witness stand so Wallace could “calm down.”
The trial is the latest complication for Alabama’s troubled prison system. Under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for prison conditions, Alabama prisons house nearly twice the inmates they were originally designed to hold.
The state — while acknowledging the system’s problems with crowding — has vigorously disputed the accusation of constitutionally inadequate medical care.
In a statement released Tuesday, prison system lawyer Bill Lunsford said evidence would show “consistent and systematic care provided to inmates who have been diagnosed with mental disorders.”