U.S. Attorney Jay Town confident Alabama prison problems can be addressed without federal lawsuit

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Department of Justice report on Alabama’s prison system that found apparent violations of the constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” does not mean a lawsuit by the federal government is imminent, U.S. Attorney Jay Town told WHNT News 19.

Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, is helping coordinate a response between Washington, D.C., and Montgomery on finding remedies for a system that the DOJ report – issued April 2—found Alabama “does not provide humane conditions for confinement.”

The report found massive problems in the state prison system.

“The violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision; overcrowding; ineffective housing and classification protocols; inadequate incident reporting; inability to control the flow of contraband into and within the prisons, including illegal drugs and weapons; ineffective prison management and training; insufficient maintenance and cleaning of facilities; the use of segregation and solitary confinement to both punish and protect victims of violence and/or sexual abuse; and a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.”

A response from the State of Alabama is due by May 21.

Town said the report’s findings were plain and the state’s duty is clear.

“There has to be protection for every inmate in every prison in the United States,” he said.

The DOJ found Alabama’s prisons have the highest inmate homicide rate in the country, eight times the national average. Alabama could be sued over the violations, but Town said he believes working with the governor’s office, the Department of Corrections and the legislature, solutions can be found.

“These are systemic problems that were inherited by the current leadership,” Town said. The finger-pointing is not going to do any good,” Town said, praising the “cooperative spirit” coming out of Montgomery.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon has said the legislature is committed to finding solutions to the problems.

Town said he’d prefer not to file a lawsuit against the state prison system.

“It is my preference that we come up with our own fix in this state, put a lot of daylight and sunlight on the issues and I think at the end of the day, I think we’ll come up with some great solutions and remedial measures,” he said.

Town also said fixing the problem will also include updating criminal laws in Alabama, especially for low-level offenders.

“We have to really look at the entire system that is putting people into the Department of Corrections jurisdiction, whether on parole, probation or actually an inmate,” he said.

Alabama’s prisons are currently at 165 percent of capacity.

The DOJ report found Alabama’s prison violence has increased dramatically over the past five years.

State corrections officials said last week they hope to add 500 new corrections officers within the next year.

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