Department of Justice says Alabama prison conditions are getting worse in court filing

The Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent. Source: WBRC file video
The Bibb County Correctional Facility in Brent. Source: WBRC file video
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 2:07 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WAFF) - The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an updated legal complaint against Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) on Wednesday.

The amended complaint alleges that the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections are violating prisoners Constitutional Rights by failing to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence, failing to protect prisoners from the use of excessive force, and failing to provide safe conditions of confinement.

Alabama has until June 16th to respond to the amended complaint.

The Department of Justice first sued ADOC in December of 2020.

The complaint says that Alabama leaders were notified of dangerous prison conditions back in April of 2019 and again in July of 2020. According to the DOJ lawsuit, Alabama has failed or refused to correct the issues. The lawsuit says that Alabama leaders were first notified of a DOJ investigation into the state’s prisons back in 2016.

According to the DOJ, prisoner-on-prisoner homicides have increased and sexual abuse has “continued unabated,” prisons remain extremely overcrowded and understaffed, and excessive use of force by staff is common.

The DOJ says Alabama prisoners endure the substantial risk of harm, death, and sexual abuse from other prisoners, the DOJ calls it a systemic problem and added that the state is deliberately indifferent to the pervasive issues inside its prisons.

The complaint says that Department of Justice attorneys have engaged in multiple rounds of negotiations with the State and that they no longer believe that the state will voluntarily fix the problems.

The complaint was personally signed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

It draws attention to prisoner-on-prisoner homicides and says that dozens of Alabama prisoners have been killed by other prisoners since 2015 and that some inmate-on-inmate homicides have gone unreported. It also alleges there have been hundreds of inmate-on-inmate assaults in the same time period.

The DOJ lists multiple factors for Alabama’s prison violence problem.

The first is overcrowding. According to the DOJ, Alabama’s prisons were built to accommodate 9,735 prisoners but are actually housing about 14,000. The complaint says Alabama’s overcrowding problem is likely to increase as the pandemic winds down because thousands of inmates are at county jails awaiting intake into the prison system due to COVID restrictions.

The complaint also says that security staff numbers are dangerously low and that fewer than half of the positions for correctional officers are filled.

The DOJ also alleges that Alabama’s prisons have issues with prisoner drug use, cell phone access, and extortion.

Several specific inmate-on-inmate incidents are highlighted in the complaint, that includes one from 2018 at Bibb Correctional Facility where an inmate was held hostage over a money debt for days and beaten by other inmates.

Alabama’s Department of Corrections issued a response to the amended complaint via a statement:

“Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) amended its original complaint in response to the State’s motion to dismiss. This was expected.

The State was pleased to see the DOJ’s willingness to reconsider the scope of facilities covered in this litigation. The State remains, however, disappointed by the DOJ’s unwillingness to acknowledge the substantial investments and improvements made by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) with the additional resources made available by Governor Ivey and the Legislature.

Moreover, the DOJ continues to rely upon anecdotal narratives of inmate-on-inmate violence, inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults, and other incidents that ignore the substantial time, energy, and resources the ADOC is devoting to: reducing violence levels among an extraordinarily violent population; increasing staffing levels in Alabama’s low-unemployment economy; and, improving living and working conditions in aging, dilapidated facilities.”

Read the full complaint below (WARNING: graphic content within this PDF):

37-main by Wade Smith on Scribd

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