Department of Justice sues Alabama over prison conditions

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Department Justice announced Wednesday its filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama and the state’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) over the conditions of state’s prisons for men.

The Justice Department argues the conditions in Alabama’s federal prisons violate the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit alleges the state fails to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse from other prisoners, fails to provide sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force from prison staff members.

“DOJ’s decision to file suit against the state—particularly at this time—is illogical, at best,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “This move both discounts the hundreds of hours that have gone into settlement negotiations thus far and disregards the immense progress that the State has made in improving our prisons since DOJ first released its findings in early 2019. Much of what the DOJ is still demanding, as its lawyers well know, goes beyond what federal law requires—in other words, these demands are unenforceable. The State will not yield to this brazen federal overreach. We look forward to our day in court.”

“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,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “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.”

The DOJ news release goes on to say the lawsuit follows “a multi-year investigation into allegations of constitutional violations within Alabama’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.”

The lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief” — court-ordered changes — to address the conditions identified by the investigation. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages.

This isn’t the first time ADOC made headlines regarding DOJ concerns. The DOJ launched an investigation into Alabama’s prison system in 2016.

In July, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was “surprised” at a report from the DOJ alleging the state subjected prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment. Marshall then went on to say Alabama is ready if the DOJ filed a lawsuit.

“­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The results of the investigation into safety and excessive force issues within Alabama’s prisons are distressing and continue to require real and immediate attention,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Louis V. Franklin. “We hope the filing of this complaint conveys the department’s continued commitment to ensuring that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Richard W. Moore, also weighed in, saying the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the government’s responsibility to keep citizens safe, including those incarcerated.

“That responsibility extends to citizens incarcerated within Alabama prisons. Our investigation has demonstrated that constitutionally required standards have not been met in Alabama prisons and this must be corrected,” said Moore. “I am disappointed that the efforts of both Alabama officials and Department of Justice officials to find appropriate solutions have not resulted in a mutually agreed upon resolution. Our oath as public officials now requires us to follow the Constitution and to pursue justice in the courts.” 

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