ATMORE, Ala. (WSFA) - The U.S. Department of Justice is reacting to Wednesday’s news that the Alabama Department of Corrections is closing and decommissioning the main facility at one of its maximum-security prisons and moving hundreds of prisoners.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Jay E. Town, said the DOJ only learned of the decision to close Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore Wednesday and said he was “disappointed that we were not privy to the decision...at the time such a decision was being considered.”
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn responded that the department “adheres to strict security protocols regarding any inmate movement" and added that “[g]iven the sensitive nature and security risks associated with this operational decision, third parties and outside agencies were not provided advance notification.”
Several stabbings have occurred behind Holman’s prison walls, but Dunn said the decision to partially close Holman had nothing to do with any issues of violence. Rather, he said it was purely based on maintenance problems involving power, water, and sewage. He said deteriorating underground utility systems threaten the safety of inmates and correctional staff.
The department had been looking at closing the more than 50-year-old facility since 2018. This is an acceleration of the process, according to the commissioner. Holman, a maximum security facility, has been plagued with power outages, water problems, and sewage backup because of decaying conditions in the main facility.
“This is a real and serious issue that cannot be understated and, after learning the extent of the risks associated with continued maintenance attempts at Holman Correctional Facility, moving quickly on our plans to decommission was the right and only decision,” Dunn said in a statement Wednesday.
The main facility, which is closing down, houses the prison’s general population and death row inmates as well as the cafeteria, medical unit, administrative suite, and execution chamber.
In total, Dunn says 422 general population inmates and 195 restrictive housing inmates are being relocated to other prisons. Those moves come despite Alabama already struggling with severe overcrowding and understaffing issues at its men’s facilities.
“This is going to place some additional stress on the system,” Dunn admitted.
Dunn said ADOC will make security and programming modifications to some facilities to accommodate the incoming inmates. There are a couple of residential units in other facilities not in use that Dunn said they are hoping to fix soon.
Holman Correctional Facility will still house its current population of 145 death row inmates. As part of Phase 1 of ADOC’s plan, 21 more death row inmates were transferred to Holman Tuesday night from Donaldson Correctional Facility.
These death row inmates will stay in a portion of the facility that uses a separate utility system. The facility’s execution chamber will not be affected by the plans and will remain ready in the event that an execution is scheduled.
A general population of 150 inmates will also stay in the E-Dorm at Holman, which uses a separate utility system. Those general inmates will work at the clothing and tag plant on sight. Dunn said the remaining Holman facilities will be staffed at 100 percent.
The department initiated Phase 2 Wednesday morning. That phase includes the transfer of the general and restrictive housing populations to other facilities. Dunn assured the public will not be at risk during the transfers.
Dunn did not know how long Phase 2 would take.
Alabama’s prisons have been scrutinized for “severe” and “systemic” problems inside the ADOC, and the DOJ has said it may sue the state after it found the prison system fails to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse. The DOJ opened its investigations in 2016.
Since the letter, Alabama lawmakers have held several meetings to address the violence, overcrowding, and understaffing issues. They plan to propose several pieces of legislation when the session begins Feb. 4.
Despite not knowing about the closure until the day it started, Towns said the DOJ "will continue to forge ahead in our good faith negotiations.”