Justice Department expects movement on Alabama prison problems in 2020

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The State of Alabama and the United States Department of Corrections have been in negotiations since April. That was when the Department of Justice released a report detailing how conditions in Alabama prisons likely violate the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The first steps in a deal could emerge early next year.

"The most important thing to me is that our prisons are reasonably safe here in the State of Alabama," said Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for Alabama's Northern District.

Negotiations between the State of Alabama and the Department of Justice to ensure safety at prisons could yield results soon, according to Town.

"We have been negotiating in good faith so I would expect in the next 90 days there would some public announcements to at least update our progress if not update sort of the finale of it," said Town.

Those negotiations began in April after the federal government released a report saying state prisons fail to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and fail to provide prisoners with safe conditions.

There is also an issue of overcrowding. Alabama's prisons are at 167 percent of capacity.

For several months, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is responsible for prisoner release decisions, suspended hearings. The board began hearings again last month. Since then, 15 inmates have been granted parole while 165 have been denied it.

Another issue is violence. Since October 1, 12 inmates have died in Alabama's prisons. One was fatally stabbed, two were killed by the use of force by guards, and four were found unresponsive or unconscious in their cells.

Town said the Department of Corrections officials are trying to address problems.

"What I can tell you is that everybody is working very hard," said Town.

Town said he believes change is on the horizon for people incarcerated in Alabama.

"I really think that on the other side of this we will see a safer prison system in the state of Alabama," said Town.

In addition to the negotiations with the Department of Justice, the state has created a task force to tackle Alabama's overcrowded prison system.

Governor Kay Ivey has also announced plans to build three new prisons to address overcrowding.