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Mentally Ill Alabama Prisoner Dies in 101-Degree Cell

Another item of related knowledge is approximately 40 percent of this country’s prison population have mental problems and illnesses of varying degrees (See PLN, Feb. 2019, p. 22). These prisoners who take prescribed drugs for mental conditions are especially subject to heat illnesses because many psychotropic drugs interfere with a person’s body’s ability to regulate their internal temperature.

This requires extra attention be paid to mental patients taking psyche meds, particularly during summer months. This appears to be equally true during winter months, as shown by the recent death of prisoner Tommy Lee Rutledge on December 7, 2020 at the Donaldson unit of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).

At the time of his death, Rutledge was assigned to an isolation cell in the prison’s mental health ward. A prisoner whose job is to walk the aisles, called a “runner,” saw Rutledge alive at about 6 p.m. and nonresponsive two hours later. The runner notified medical personnel who removed Rutledge from his cell to take him to the infirmary where he died at 9:13 p.m.

The temperature in Rutledge’s cell was recorded at 101 degrees Fahrenheit. His body’s core temperature was recorded at 109 degrees. The National Weather Service reported the temperature outside Rutledge’s cell as being 31 degrees. His posture in the cell was noted to be “facing out the window” almost as though he had been trying to breathe the cooler air outside according to the medical examiner’s findings. There is no thermostat in prisoners’ cells for temperature regulation.

ADOC prisoner Farron Barksdale died from a psyche medicine-induced, heat-related death at the Kilby prison unit in August 2007. The surviving family received a $750,000 settlement over his death.

ADOC is currently defending a federal lawsuit challenging its overall substandard confinement conditions. The Department of Justice investigative reports consistently corroborate the lawsuit’s claims. ADOC reportedly refuses to cooperate with the federal investigators. 


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