MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter Tuesday to Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jefferson Dunn.
In the letter, they encouraged the state to work with the SPLC to forge a path forward, out of this prison crisis the SPLC calls ‘nothing short of a public health and safety emergency.’
The letter included nearly two dozen foot research footnotes, backing up the information included in the report. They pin the responsibility on the past and current members of Alabama’s leadership.
According to the US Department of Justice, the prisons are at 160 percent capacity. On April 2, 2019, the US Department of Justice released a scathing report detailing the results of its two-year investigation into allegations ADOC is in violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
The SPLC states prisons filled beyond their capacity are prone to violence that endangers prisoners and corrections officers. Twenty-six violent deaths occurred within the prisons in the past two years. The DOJ says the overcrowding plays a role in the inmate-on-inmate violence and sexual assault.
Prison advocates say the understaffing issues make the violence and drug trade into — and within — the prisons significantly worse. A federal judge already ordered ADOC to hire at least 2,200 correctional officers by 2022. If it does not reach that goal, the US Attorney General is able to initiate a lawsuit.
The SPLC said the cycle of violence and staff shortages is a vicious cycle. ADOC currently has over 3,300 open corrections officers’ positions. They’ve only filled a little over 1,000 spots. The SPLC said the state needs to ask lawmakers for more money to make more hires.
In the report, the DOJ gave ADOC 49 days from the date of the letter, or until May 21, to correct issues related to overcrowding, understaffing, inadequate supervision, inability to control drug trade and ineffective prison management and training. Again, if ADOC does not immediately work to find resolutions in this area, the federal government could sue.
In February, Governor Ivey proposed building three new mega prisons. But, the SPLC says that’s not a solution to the prison crisis. The DOJ said those facilities are not the answer. Instead pointing to repair of most the current prisons, hiring many more corrections officers, and keeping prison out of private corporation’s hands as the way forward.
In the governor’s proposal, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said two prisons would house around 3,000 inmates each. The other would specifically house inmates with medical and mental health needs.
The SPLC said measured prison repairs would be a better idea, instead of huge facilities. They also encourage the department of corrections to close at least two prisons with the most deplorable conditions, and replace them with facilities holding no more than 1,000 inmates.
The SPLC supports the closing of the Holman Correctional Facility, currently at 150 percent capacity. They said it should close because of its ‘deplorable’ conditions and violence issues.
Governor Ivey’s plan may mean accepting bids from private companies. The SPLC said private companies are focused on their bottom line and therefore cut costs whenever possible. The SPLC said privatization doesn’t provide accountability or transparency.
You can read the SPLC’s entire letter at www.splcenter.org.