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Justice Department may sue Alabama over 'severe' prison problems

The Justice Department says Alabama's prison system has been violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse.

Posted: Apr 3, 2019 9:02 AM
Updated: Apr 3, 2019 9:44 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Justice Department says Alabama's prison system has been violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse.

The federal government's findings were disclosed in a scathing letter reviewed Wednesday by The Associated Press. The letter described the problems as "severe" and "systemic."

The Justice Department also warned that it may sue the state within the next two months if Alabama doesn't fix the problems.

The findings are the result of an investigation opened in 2016 at the end of the Obama administration.

The report is the latest blow to the troubled Alabama prison system, which has been criticized for overcrowding, violence, and a high suicide rate.

A federal judge ruled in 2017 that the state has provided "horrendously inadequate" care to mentally ill inmates.

Gov. Kay Ivey's response: 

Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections responded today to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) findings letter that reports the results of the DOJ’s investigation into inmate-on-inmate violence, sexual assault, and the conditions of confinement within the Alabama Department of Corrections’ (ADOC) male correctional facilities.

The DOJ investigation, pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), was initiated on October 6, 2016, and involved site inspections at four male prisons and the interviewing of hundreds of inmates, correctional staff, and ADOC officials. For more than two years, the DOJ pursued an investigation of issues that have been the subject of on-going litigation and the target of significant reforms by the state.

“We appreciate the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure open lines of communication with the State of Alabama. DOJ has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time,” Governor Ivey said. “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.”

The Department of Corrections already acknowledged many of the issues in the DOJ’s findings letter and has been actively working to remedy these concerns 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.

As DOJ stated in its finding letter, “We recognize ADOC has begun to make some positive changes in recent years.”

Alabama Department of Corrections plan to build new prisons will allow for enhanced security through updated structures and the implementation of current technology resources. Such facilities will also allow for the integration of medical and mental health services and provide safer environments for inmates and staff.

“ADOC voluntarily assisted the DOJ in every reasonable way with the investigation,” Commissioner Jeff Dunn said. “Our primary objective is to ensure each facility provides a humane, secure, and safe environment for inmates, and that reforms already in place and proposed bring about positive, tangible changes throughout the prison system.” Efforts for the improved hiring and retention of correctional staff have been bolstered with the Legislature’s $86 million funding appropriations in 2018 and 2019 for hiring additional correctional and health services staff. These efforts continue with a $31 million request for ADOC’s proposed 2020 budget, which would help the department hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all security personnel.

Continued multi-agency law enforcement security operations, like one recently conducted at the St. Clair Correctional Facility on February 28, utilized drug detection canines and drone technology to confiscate contraband at prison facilities to improve safety among inmates and correctional staff.

ADOC has expanded its increased oversight of mental health service delivery, with the creation and addition of multiple mental health oversight staff positions and staff-wide training. Additionally, with assistance from nationally recognized clinical mental health experts, ADOC developed a comprehensive mental health program for standard mental health screening, crisis and suicide intervention, prevention, and specialized mental health treatment.

In 2014, ADOC partnered with a consulting group to aid the department in complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards and improving conditions within the prison system. DOJ and ADOC jointly selected an independent monitor who provided technical assistance to ADOC in addition to assessing the department’s compliance. In 2017, all ADOC facilities reached full PREA compliance with DOJ’s validation.

To combat recidivism and in the interest of public safety, ADOC uses evidence-based principles and programs by matching inmates with rehabilitative, vocational, and educational programs they need to reenter society successfully upon their release.

“In response to DOJ’s findings, it is important to understand all the current efforts ADOC has taken and will continue to take to improve the conditions of confinement within the male prison system,” Dunn said. “Governor’s Ivey’s commitment to working closely with the Legislature to resolve this generational problem will ultimately lead to a 21st Century prison system.”

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 162720

Reported Deaths: 2735
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson24088384
Mobile17166319
Tuscaloosa10641142
Montgomery10576205
Madison961998
Shelby766067
Baldwin688871
Lee666965
Calhoun480663
Marshall450051
Etowah444553
Morgan442835
Houston426535
DeKalb357929
Elmore329258
St. Clair313843
Limestone300333
Walker290293
Talladega277737
Cullman271925
Lauderdale243743
Jackson228218
Autauga214131
Colbert212532
Franklin210732
Blount203925
Russell19993
Chilton192632
Dallas189427
Dale186252
Coffee185111
Covington178729
Escambia176031
Clarke139117
Tallapoosa138587
Chambers138147
Pike137014
Marion111831
Barbour10569
Marengo105322
Butler102041
Geneva9597
Winston95313
Pickens90018
Lawrence89933
Bibb86615
Randolph85316
Hale78330
Cherokee76915
Clay76712
Washington75912
Henry7366
Lowndes72328
Monroe66310
Bullock65117
Crenshaw61630
Fayette60413
Perry6026
Cleburne5819
Conecuh57313
Wilcox57212
Macon55020
Lamar5255
Sumter48721
Choctaw39512
Greene34616
Coosa2193
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 259488

Reported Deaths: 3341
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby37618571
Davidson32908350
Knox1330196
Rutherford12485116
Hamilton12251111
Williamson749657
Sumner6439117
Wilson495064
Putnam463859
Montgomery442861
Out of TN430436
Sullivan410052
Madison392780
Washington387758
Bradley372923
Maury363039
Blount355441
Sevier353423
Robertson270243
Hamblen256950
Tipton250123
Dyer236338
Unassigned23047
Gibson223449
Coffee201428
Hardeman193933
Greene192755
Obion186527
Anderson184816
Bedford180522
Trousdale17949
Dickson179119
Fayette177427
Lawrence173220
McMinn172939
Carter172136
Cumberland169827
Loudon169713
Wayne16237
Jefferson162224
Weakley161926
Monroe153629
Warren152011
Lauderdale150717
Roane14478
Hardin144423
Henderson144326
Macon138425
Franklin135124
Haywood133428
Hawkins128629
Overton126825
White126615
Johnson12118
Marshall120512
Carroll118127
Cocke116716
McNairy116330
Rhea115121
Cheatham112012
Campbell111613
Bledsoe10404
Smith104014
Giles102238
Lake9924
Lincoln9514
Fentress94812
Crockett91722
Henry84512
Hickman84115
Marion82613
DeKalb79018
Chester74416
Decatur68211
Grainger6414
Grundy60013
Union5604
Claiborne5498
Polk53813
Unicoi4865
Jackson4778
Humphreys4694
Lewis4586
Morgan4587
Benton44110
Cannon4362
Houston43117
Clay42216
Scott4165
Sequatchie3702
Stewart35613
Perry3508
Meigs3396
Pickett2879
Moore2862
Van Buren2132
Hancock1273

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