Investigation underway into death of Alabama inmate who testified in prison mental health trial

UNION SPRINGS, Ala. (WIAT) — The apparent suicide of 24-year-old inmate Jamie Wallace is under investigation, the Alabama Department of Corrections says.

Wallace testified earlier this month in the trial over mental health care in the state’s prison system. During his testimony, Wallace said he was never asked about his mental health status when he first entered prison. He also said an officer at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County asked him if he wanted to kill himself and provided him a razor for a suicide attempt.

According to AL.com, Wallace testified he was “mildly retarded” and suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. The state denied all the claims.

The trial began earlier this month. According to Bob Horton with the ADOC, Wallace was found hanging unresponsive from a piece of cloth inside his Bullock County Correctional Facility cell on Dec. 15 around 10:33 p.m. Horton says a nurse administered CPR, but was unsuccessful at reviving him.

Wallace was serving a 25-year sentence on a 2013 murder conviction. The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating his death.

CBS42 has reached out to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who is representing the inmates in the ongoing trial. They released the follow statements:

“The death of Jamie Wallace is a tragedy that could have been avoided.  Less than two weeks before he was found hanging in his cell, Jamie testified about the lack of mental health care under the Alabama Department of Corrections.  Unfortunately, many more people incarcerated in Alabama’s prisons suffer in similar conditions. We brought this case, and are in court today, to try to protect people like Jamie Wallace who are enduring unconstitutional treatment and horrible indifference to their needs. Those with mental health issues deserve adequate treatment, not to be warehoused in prisons where mental health services are wholly inadequate.  Our hearts go out to Jamie’s family and loved ones.” Maria Morris, Senior Supervising Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center

“Having worked with Jamie over the last few months, I came to understand what the ADOC apparently never did.  Jamie was desperate for help with the mental illnesses that drove him to repeatedly hurt himself, and to say that he wanted to die, in many ways, over the last several years.  Rather than prompting them to do everything that could have done to provide him with the treatment he needed, his many cries for help were treated as malingering.  The Defendants’ attorneys went to great lengths to try to portray his suicide attempts as faking.  It is tragic and devastating that it took a fatal hanging to perhaps finally make it clear that he wasn’t just faking. Jamie’s case is emblematic of the utter neglect and mistreatment of people with serious mental illness in ADOC prisons.  Even with all of the issues he faced, Jamie knew that and wanted to make a difference.  I am very saddened by his death, but proud that he knew he had done something important and lasting.” Lisa Borden, Pro Bono Shareholder, Baker Donelson

“The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) expresses its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Jamie Wallace.  As the Protection and Advocacy agency for the State of Alabama, ADAP remains gravely concerned about the health and welfare of all persons with mental health disabilities in Alabama’s prisons, especially those persons with serious mental illnesses.”  James Tucker, Executive Director, The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program

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