MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys claimed in court documents Friday that the Alabama Department of Corrections has made little progress toward addressing the severe need for corrections officers.
Now, the ADOC is responding, and they’re refuting the SPLC’s claims.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said in 2017 the department needs around 2,000 more corrections officers as part of the effort to provide safety to inmates behind prison walls. He said mental health care in state prisons was “horrendously inadequate” and ruled understaffing contributed to the issue.
SPLC attorneys said in court documents between June of 2017, when the judge ruled, and September of 2019, the number of ADOC corrections officers, basic corrections officers, and supervisors decreased by 196 officers. The group said between Dec. 31, 2017, and Sept. 20, 2019, the number of officers increased by 25 officers.
“Defendant’s efforts to address severe and deadly correctional understaffing in Alabama prisons have not yet proven to be effective in addressing both recruitment and retention," SPLC court documents said. “Rather than demanding ‘praise’ from the Court, Defendants should identify any other means by which the State of Alabama can address the deadly level of correctional understaffing that plagues Alabama prisons."
Counsel for the Alabama Department of Corrections sent out a rebuttal Monday.
“We believe the SPLC intentionally took great liberties with complicated information that ultimately painted an inaccurate portrait of the meaningful progress we have made in addressing staffing challenges, including deliberately excluding data from the most effective recruitment period in ADOC history,” said Bill Lunsford, Counsel for the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Representation for the ADOC said they had a net gain of 193 correctional security from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2019. They also graduated an additional 125 officers in December.
“The reality is that we are instituting sweeping changes to address both recruitment and retention concerns that will take both time and resources to fully implement, including building three new correctional facilities that will provide safer and more desirable working conditions," Lunsford said.
The Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner has said they are adamantly working to hire more people. The state legislature approved $40 million to hire 500 more corrections officers for Fiscal Year 2020.
“This is not an easy undertaking, and the SPLC’s manufactured distractions only serve to detract from our collective mission to positively transform corrections in Alabama. We are solely focused on the task-at-hand and remain fully committed to achieving this goal,” Lunsford said.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a report in April claiming the state’s prisons violated the 8th Amendment. They said a significant factor included the lack of corrections officers.
State lawmakers have said they plan to address prison reform during the 2020 legislative session.