DOJ files lawsuit on ADOC

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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The U.S. Justice Department Dec. 9 filed a suit against the Alabama Department of Corrections, alleging the conditions of the prisons for men are in violation of the constitution because the state is failing to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse, according to a release on the DOJ’s website.

Additionally, the DOJ alleges that the prison system is failing to provide safe and sanitary conditions and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

“The United States Constitution requires Alabama to make sure that its prisons are safe and humane,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s prisons for men and determined that Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence. The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries. The Department of Justice looks forward to proving its case in an Alabama federal courtroom.”

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Recently, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the construction of three new megaprisons, which could help alleviate the overcrowding and staffing issues.

According to the DOJ, the lawsuit was the result of a multi-year investigation into allegations of constitutional vilations within the state’s prisons for men conducted by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama. As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the state with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions, and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them in Notice Reports issued on April 2, 2019 and July 23, 2020. CRIPA authorizes the department to act when it has reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to correctional facilities operated by or on behalf of state or local government. For over 20 months the department has engaged in negotiations with the state without achieving a settlement that would correct the deficiencies identified by the department’s investigation. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) released a statement Dec. 10 in response to the DOJ’s lawsuit.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been engaged in ongoing, exhaustive settlement negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) since the release of its first findings letter in April 2019,” the ADOC wrote. “In the midst of good progress in our negotiations and on the eve of another settlement session, the DOJ elected to file a lawsuit with zero advance notice or any indication that they were unsatisfied with the process. This move was not made in the spirit of good faith, and only serves to undermine many months of productive conversations that were moving toward a mutual resolution.

“The ADOC disagrees with the allegations made by the DOJ. Since the beginning of the DOJ’s investigation and throughout the negotiation period, the ADOC has participated voluntarily and cooperated fully in their process. We have provided significant access to staff at all levels and delivered requested materials, except for those related to open criminal investigations. The complaint filed by the DOJ plainly ignores the years’ worth of information provided by the ADOC regarding the substantial and impactful reforms it continues to undertake. Further, the tone and tenor utilized in the complaint and in the DOJ’s press release run counter to the DOJ’s approach throughout our ongoing negotiations, implying a certain level of inappropriate public posturing.”

The ADOC said two of the concerns brought up by the DOJ are well known by all, including the staffing challenges and dilapidated facilities.

As the ADOC has consistently shared and demonstrated, significant efforts are underway to address these important issues,” the department wrote. “Regarding correctional staffing levels, no other single issue has consumed more time, attention and resources of the ADOC over the last five years. We have made real strides in addressing recruitment and staffing. The DOJ, unfortunately, has ostensibly failed to acknowledge the tireless work and progress underway in this area. Regarding our dilapidated facilities, the complaint only reinforces that Gov. Ivey’s plan to construct three new regional men’s facilities is vital, and that we must continue down the path we have been traveling for several years – to act with utmost urgency and build efficiently designed facilities that will provide safer living and working conditions.”

The ADOC said the DOJ continues to mischaracterize the instances of sweeping patterns, and it will defend its staff and department in court.

In the Atmore area, there are two ADOC prisons – William C. Holman Correctional Facility and Fountain Correctional Facility. Both prisons on located along Highway 21 north.