MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Corrections responded Friday after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it believes the conditions inside the state’s prisons are unconstitutional.
“We are disappointed in the surprise manner in which the DOJ orchestrated the release of this letter, which hinders the progress made by our Department to address the long-standing challenges facing our correctional system,” ADOC said in a statement.
Thursday, DOJ released a report and letter showing the findings of its investigation into ADOC. DOJ said it found cause to believe prisoners are frequently subjected to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.
ADOC says it has been “proactive and vocal” to address these issues.
“Most recently, in December 2019, Commissioner Dunn announced new actions taken to significantly mitigate the risk of excessive use-of-force incidents in Alabama’s correctional facilities, including the formation of a new Violence Reduction Task Force,” ADOC said. “The work of the Task Force has resulted in protocol, programmatic, staffing, and training assessments as well as actions – the full benefits of which have yet to be realized with the implementation of certain outputs still in early stages.”
The department says correctional staff are getting use-of-force refresher training, it is working to obtain body cameras for staff, and it is creating a new special investigator position.
ADOC also pointed to the plan to build new prisons, which it says will help with staffing, capacity and facility safety.
Gov. Kay Ivey released this statement Thursday:
“Today’s letter was an expected follow-up to the initial findings the Department of Justice made public in April 2019, thus completing this investigative progress which began in 2016. We will be carefully reviewing these serious allegations in the coming weeks. My Administration remains hopeful that with the completion of this investigation, the state and federal governments can finally reach a resolution to all of the Department’s allegations. I am as committed as ever to improving prison safety through necessary infrastructure investment, increased correctional staffing, comprehensive mental-health care services, and effective rehabilitation programs, among other items. We all desire an effective, Alabama solution to this Alabama problem, and my Administration will put in the hard work and long hours necessary to achieve that result.”
While the governor said she was expecting the DOJ letter, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was “ambushed with [the report], issued in the form of a public press release only moments after we received it.”
“To be clear, the State of Alabama has never denied the challenges that the Alabama Department of Corrections is facing,” Marshall said in a statement. “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.”
Marshall said DOJ notified his office that it had 49 days to agree on a consent decree.
“I have made it absolutely clear from the beginning that the State will not, under any circumstances, enter into a consent decree with the federal government to avoid a lawsuit,” Marshall said.
The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama started an investigation into Alabama’s prisons in October 2016.
In April 2019, the DOJ notified the state that ADOC also fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse and physical harm from other prisons and fails to maintain sanitary and safe facilities. DOJ says it is currently negotiating with Alabama to reach an agreement on remedies for the deficiencies identified in the April 2019 notice.