Excessive force ‘frequently’ used against inmates in Alabama prisons, DOJ finds

(Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 2:01 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - There is reasonable cause to believe inmates in the men’s prisons in Alabama are subjected to excessive force by prison staff, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Alabama announced Thursday.

They say the conditions in the prisons violate the Constitution.

An investigation into the prisons found cause to believe there is a “pattern or practice of using excessive force against prisoners in Alabama’s prisons for men,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.

“The results of the investigation into excessive force issues within Alabama’s prisons is distressing and continues to require real and immediate attention,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Louis Franklin. “We are hopeful that our continued work with State officials can ensure that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

The DOJ has given the Alabama Department of Corrections written notice of the findings from the investigation and the measures needed to address them.

DOJ says it will work with the state to find settlement terms to address the issues outlined in the report, which can be found here: Use of Force CRIPA Notice Letter (2020) and Cover Letter to Use of Force CRIPA Notice (2020).

“While we recognized the challenges of correcting systemic constitutional deficiencies in Alabama prisons that have existed for decades, now is the time for significant reform. The three U.S. Attorneys in Alabama are committed to a just resolution of this matter,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard Moore.

Gov. Kay Ivey released this statement Thursday:

“Today’s letter was an expected follow-up to the initial findings the Department of Justice made public in April 2019, thus completing this investigative progress which began in 2016. We will be carefully reviewing these serious allegations in the coming weeks. My Administration remains hopeful that with the completion of this investigation, the state and federal governments can finally reach a resolution to all of the Department’s allegations. I am as committed as ever to improving prison safety through necessary infrastructure investment, increased correctional staffing, comprehensive mental-health care services, and effective rehabilitation programs, among other items. We all desire an effective, Alabama solution to this Alabama problem, and my Administration will put in the hard work and long hours necessary to achieve that result.”

While the governor said she was expecting the letter, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was “ambushed with today’s report, issued in the form of a public press release only moments after we received it.”

“To be clear, the State of Alabama has never denied the challenges that the Alabama Department of Corrections is facing,” Marshall said in a statement. “As evidence of the seriousness with which we have taken the DOJ’s allegations, the State is undertaking efforts to construct three new men’s facilities that we believe—and the DOJ has conceded—will have a significant positive impact on many of the areas of concern that the DOJ has identified.”

Marshall said DOJ notified his office that it had 49 days to agree on a consent decree.

“I have made it absolutely clear from the beginning that the State will not, under any circumstances, enter into a consent decree with the federal government to avoid a lawsuit,” Marshall said.

The Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama started an investigation into Alabama’s prisons in October 2016.

In April 2019, the DOJ notified the state that ADOC also fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse and physical harm from other prisons and fails to maintain sanitary and safe facilities. DOJ says it is currently negotiating with Alabama to reach an agreement on remedies for the deficiencies identified in the April 2019 notice.

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