ALABAMA (WRBL) – The United States Department of Justice released a report alleging that prisons for male inmates in Alabama violate rights enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution through use of excessive force.
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Constitution and that prisoners are subjected to excessive force at the hands of prison staff, according to a statement from the DOJ.
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act requires that the department provide facilities with written notice supporting the alleged conditions and a set of minimum requirements to address the issues.
“The Constitution guarantees prisoners the right not to be subjected to excessive force and to be housed in reasonably safe conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of using excessive force against prisoners in Alabama’s prisons for men. The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the department’s concerns.”
The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Alabama first began their investigation of prison facilities in 2016 under CRIPA, which authorized the department to act when it has reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities, according to a statement from DOJ.
In April 2019, the DOJ notified the state of Alabama that the Alabama Department of Corrections failed to protect prisoners from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisonsers and maintain sanitary, safe, and secure facilities.
Officials say the DOJ is currently negotiating with the state of Alabama to come to an agreement on the proper way to remedy the “constitutional deficiencies” identified in their aforementioned April 2019 Notice Letter.
In that letter, DOJ officials stated that:
Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in Alabama’s prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe and sanitary conditions. The Department noted that serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision, and overcrowding, contribute to and exacerbate the constitutional violations.Part of DOJ Cover Letter sent to Governor Kay Ivey regarding investigation of Alabama’s State Prisons for Men
DOJ officials say that their investigation did not find a systematic pattern or practice of sexual abuse by staff. However, investigators identified what they call “a lack of accountability in reviewing and tracking uses of force.”
In December 2019, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn announced actions he was taking to mitigate the violence found in Alabama’s correctional facilities, creating a task force to examine inmate-on-inmate violence as well as alleged excessive use of force by ADOC staff.
Addressing issues with overcrowding in Alabama’s prison system, the state created a study commission to explore changes aimed at reducing recidivism, or going back to prison after release, and undertake sentencing reform.
Ivey and other state leaders also announced plans to potentially build three mega prisons in the state to consolidate the inmate populations. A bidding process for the new prison structures is ongoing, narrowed down to four possible companies as of November 2019.
Additionally, the letter sent to Governor Ivey on July 23 states that if Alabama officials have not “satisfactorily addressed” the issues identified by the DOJ within 49 of receipt, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit under CRIPA to correct the conditions allegedly affecting Alabama’s prisons for men. DOJ officials say they will be in touch with ADOC to further discuss the matter in detail.
Responding to the DOJ report, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshal released a statement, quoted in part below:
“To be clear, the State of Alabama has never denied the challenges that the Alabama Department of Corrections is facing. As evidence of the seriousness with which we have taken the DOJ’s allegations, the State is undertaking efforts to construct three new men’s facilities that we believe—and the DOJ has conceded—will have a significant positive impact on many of the areas of concern that the DOJ has identified.”
Read the full findings of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division: