MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The U.S Department of Justice says it may sue Alabama after finding constitutional violations in its men’s prisons.
In a scathing letter released Wednesday, the DOJ described the problems as “severe” and “systemic.”
The letter says the prison system fails to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse, which violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In a letter states the attorney general may initiate a lawsuit within the next two months if Alabama officials do not “satisfactorily address the issues.”
The Eighth Amendment is meant to safeguard Americans against cruel and unusual punishments. This requires that ADOC take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of all prisoners.
“The Constitution guarantees all prisoners the right to be housed in safe conditions and not be subjected to violence and sexual abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result. The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns.”
The DOJ’s findings are the result of an investigation opened in 2016.
“An extraordinary amount of time and effort was expended to investigate this matter,” said U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr. “Although the results of this investigation are disturbing, I look at this as an opportunity to acknowledge that the problems are real and need to be addressed immediately. We are committed to working with State officials to ensure that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”
Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections responded to the report Wednesday. They stated in a news release that the state prison system has already acknowledged many of the issues that are outlined in the DOJ’s letter.
The governor and DOC said they are working to remedy the issues by "improving correctional officer hiring and retention; developing effective prison management, including efforts to curtail the entry of contraband; and replacing an outdated prison system with state-of-the-art correctional facilities designed to safely, effectively, and humanely manage and meet the needs of a diverse inmate population.”
“We appreciate the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure open lines of communication with the State of Alabama," Ivey said. “DOJ has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time. Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety, making certain that this Alabama problem has an Alabama solution."
Alabama’s prisons have the highest homicide rate in the country. In 2014, the national average homicide rate in prisons was seven homicides per 100,000 prisoners. During fiscal year 2017, ADOC publicly reported nine homicides in its men’s prisons, which house about 16,000 prisoners (a rate of homicide of 56 per 100,000 prisoners). This is approximately eight times the 2014 national rate.