MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Taxpayers will be deeply involved in overhauling the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2019. We are monitoring three key areas of impact.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has roughly four weeks left to implement sweeping corrective action ordered by The Department of Justice. Inaction could result in legal action or a federal takeover.
In April, The Department of Justice issued a scathing report documenting horrifying conditions inside Alabama’s mens’ prisons. DOJ found Alabama to have some of the deadliest prisons in the nation, with a homicide rate eight times the national average. Investigators discovered the overcrowded and understaffed prisons create an environment for systemic violence and unsanitary living conditions.
Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Chris England are sponsoring companion legislation that would create a two-step pay raise for APOST-certified officers. The legislation would also create training bonuses and allow officers to cash in unused leave. SB303 and HB468 both passed out of committee this week. The salary increase would meet the recommendations listed in a recently-unsealed report in an ongoing federal lawsuit involving ADOC. ADOC is working to hire 500 correctional officers to begin remediating severely low staffing issues. A federal court order requires ADOC to hire more than 2,000 officers by 2022.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Prison Oversight continues to meet and discuss corrective action.
Federal District Judge Myron Thompson is expected to issue an opinion and order next week by concerning suicide prevention measures in the Alabama Department of Corrections.
In January, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an emergency motion following an alarming number of suicides in ADOC. Currently, 15 prisoners have taken their lives in 15 months. The majority of those inmates were in restrictive housing units at the time of their deaths. During a two-week bench trial, the SPLC argued the state wasn’t following court-ordered suicide prevention measures and prisoners suffering from serious mental illness died as a result.
Thompson issued a notice in the case on Thursday.
“After extensive engagement with the issues, the court has concluded that they are extremely complex and will require additional time to resolve,” the notice stated. “Therefore, the court now plans to issue its opinion and order next week.”
This issue is part of ongoing civil litigation in Braggs v. Dunn, a lawsuit filed against ADOC by the SPLC and the ADA.
Thompson has issued two key rulings in this case which found the state’s mental health care “horrendously inadequate,” cited ADOC as deliberately indifferent to the mental health conditions of prisoners who are placed in isolation, and found the conditions to be in violation of prisoners’ eighth amendment rights.