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WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Deadline approaching for Alabama to show Department of Justice it's improving prisons

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers agree Alabama's prisons are in bad shape.

Posted: May 22, 2019 6:11 PM
Updated: May 22, 2019 7:31 PM

Alabama is under a looming deadline to show the Department of Justice how it's improving the state's prison issues.

The calls for fixing all started after the DOJ released a scathing 56-page report on how violence, sexual assault, drug abuse and corruption are running rampant in the state's 13 male prisons. The DOJ's report went on to say that Alabama is infringing on inmates' constitutional rights by subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment.

Last Thursday, lawmakers in Montgomery said they don't think the federal government will sue Alabama over this, because they said conversations with U.S. Attorney Jay Town's office are going well and they are trying to show the federal government how they are complying with changes.

The DOJ's report came out 49 days ago, and both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have agreed Alabama's prisons are in bad shape.

"Those conditions are absolutely horrendous, and I think everyone up here would agree with that," said Senator Cam Ward (R). "The notion that we allow that to continue is terrible."

In the report, the DOJ said some immediate fixes are contacting the National Institute of Corrections and facilitating sit-down meetings with the Alabama Department of Corrections. The Alabama Department of Corrections told WAAY 31 it has done that and those meetings are scheduled.

The DOJ also said the department of corrections should start scanning and searching people better when they come into a prison. The DOJ also demanded more 'shakedowns' to find prison contraband.

In April, the DOJ did a shakedown at Holman Correctional Facility and found 356 makeshift weapons, 91 grams of meth, 98 grams of pot, cocaine, more than 400 pills and 16 cell phones.

"I think the biggest key is this, I think what the Department of Justice is looking for and what Judge Thompson is looking for, and I'm speaking for me, not them, but what I think they are looking for is we're making a good faith effort as a legislative and executive branch of government to try and comply with their concerns and in the conversations we've had, I think we're improving that and I don't think we will have a lawsuit," said Ward.

Since the DOJ's April 3rd report, at least three correctional officers have been arrested for bringing in prison contraband, along with a few civilians trying to sneak stuff into the prisons. Lawmakers said that shows some form of improvement.

"We have to show that we're making a good faith effort. If it ever comes up that we're ignoring them, then therein lies your problem," said Ward. "That's where other states have gotten in trouble."

Lawmakers are calling for Governor Kay Ivey to give them a special session so they can pass prison reform bills. Ivey's office said all options are on the table and they are working with lawmakers on a multi-faceted approach.

If Alabama can't fix its prison issues laid out in the DOJ's report, then the federal government can sue the state and force change.

"The choice is pretty simple. Either the men and women, House republicans, democrat, in this chamber in this legislature fix this and we fix it now, or we will just let a judge do it for us. That's the options we have," said Ward.

WAAY 31 reached out to U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town. This is the statement given to us by his office:

"Under federal law, the Department of Justice will only file suit 49 days or more after providing the State of Alabama with a notice that it is violating the Constitution. That notice was provided to the State of Alabama in a letter dated April 2. Since then, the Department of Justice has worked, and continues to work, with the Alabama Department of Corrections to determine if the State can satisfactorily address the identified constitutional deficiencies and come to an agreed-upon resolution."

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the state's budget, which will give $46 million to the Department of Corrections to help fund and fix some of the problems. The budget now goes to the House for approval.

The Department of Corrections will release their 2019-2020 strategic plan to the public on Thursday. The plan will focus on four main areas: infrastructure, programming, culture and staffing.

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