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Alabama inmate’s likely suicide at least the fifth this year

A man serving at the Holman Correctional Facility died May 15 of an apparent suicide, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Wednesday.

Jamal O’Neal Jackson, 29, was found unresponsive in his cell by prison officials on May 15, the department said in a message to APR. An investigation into his death is ongoing and the exact cause of death is pending at autopsy, the department said. Jackson was serving on Alabama’s death row after a 2017 murder conviction.

Jackson’s death is at least the fifth suspected suicide among those serving in Alabama prisons so far this year, according to the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice. During 2019, there were at least eight suspected suicides among inmates in state facilities.

ADOC doesn’t make it a practice of publicly disclosing inmate deaths unless a journalist learns of a death through other means and asks for verification.

There were at least 13 homicides among those serving in state prisons in 2019, and at least four suspected overdose deaths. So far this year there have been at least five homicides of inmates in Alabama prisons and four possible overdose deaths.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 released a report detailing what federal investigators found were systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs, high levels of homicides and suicides and corruption in Alabama prisons.

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ADOC continues to defend the department in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center over mental health care and treatment of inmates in state prisons, arguing in the complaint that the department was indifferent to the health of those inmates, who were dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.

ADOC is under a court order in that case to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who’s presiding over the case, ordered ADOC to tell the court how the department planned to meet that deadline, noting in his order that over nine months the department added just more than 100 correctional officers, according to court records.

Thompson also noted that ADOC lost 46 supervisors over a one-year period, and had ordered the department to employ 500 supervisors by 2020.

William Lunsford, ADOC’s attorney, in a response to Thompson’s order on June 12, told the court that ADOC remains optimistic it can meet the hiring deadline and that the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt the department’s ability to hire correctional officers.

ADOC has bolstered recruiting efforts and the state Legislature has boosted pay for correctional officers in order to attract more workers, Lunsford told the court in the filing.

“The State appreciates the Court’s willingness to assist in its work to increase correctional staffing and supervisors with ADOC facilities. Since the entry of the Staffing Order, the State has developed the infrastructure to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain correctional staff and supervisors. Its efforts are bearing fruit,” Lunsford told the court.

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Eddie Burkhalter
Written By

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.