MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Corrections is creating a new position to review use-of-force investigations so the responsibility to investigate does not fall on the individual prison, according to Commissioner Jeff Dunn.
ADOC says they began the process of developing this role about a month ago. Dunn believes this will provide more accountability.
“And by doing it by I guess you could say an independent agency that’s not attached the facility will help us in the objectivity of this will ensure that all of the proper reporting channels are followed and procedures are followed,” Dunn said. “And I think that will even lend more credibility and transparency to that process.”
Currently, use-of-force incidents are initially investigated by a designated Captain or Warden in each facility, according to a spokesperson for ADOC. The investigating officer will then file a report detailing the findings of the investigation and recommending if the matter should be referred to the Law Enforcement Services Division (LESD) for a full investigation by one of the LESD investigators.
However, Dunn said this new Use of Force Review Officer position will be located outside the facility and outside the operations chain-of-command to review each use of force for appropriate administrative and criminal investigation.
The Alabama Department of Corrections faced another blow from the U.S. Department of Justice last month. The DOJ’s recent report alleges excessive force is frequently used against inmates in the men’s prisons.
The report shared stories of beatings and lack of accountability within prison walls.
“They looked back about four and a half years and they picked some very admittedly egregious examples to highlight their point, but I don’t think they were taken in context,” Dunn said.
Dunn said the report did not include the steps the prison system has been taking the last year to address the decades-long issues. Dunn says they created a task force to address excessive use of force, they applied for grants for additional deescalation training and body cameras.
“The letter didn’t mention any of that. It didn’t mention any of the very hard, hard work that has gone on in the department to address these things,” Dunn said.
One example in the report says an ADOC officer filed a false incident report after beating a prisoner in 2018. The DOJ says that officer was not disciplined or referred for criminal prosecution.
WSFA asked the commissioner if this is something no longer happening anymore.
“I think there are certainly cases out there that we did not follow exactly 100% perfectly our process and those cases when we figure those out, we address them,” he said.
The DOJ gave the ADOC a written notice of the findings from the investigation and the measures needed to address them. The ADOC Commissioner says they have already been working on majority of what the DOJ recommended.
The ACLU of Alabama has been a long-time critic of the department. They did not find the DOJ findings surprising.
“There’s a lack of accountability by ADOC leadership,” Dillon Nettles with the group said. “So it was not surprising to us because we hear these reports frequently from people on the inside and from their family members.”
In April of 2019, the DOJ notified the state that ADOC also fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse and physical harm from other prisoners and fails to maintain sanitary and safe facilities.