ADOC says federal lawsuit over Alabama prison conditions ‘fails on merit’

Alabama News

FILE – In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, Sandy Ray, holds photos of her son, Steven Davis, during a press conference at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. Davis died in 2019 after an altercation with corrections officers at the prison where he was incarcerated. Ray said she has received little information about his death. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, against Alabama over conditions in the state prisons, saying the state is failing to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) issued a statement Thursday night in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the Department of Justice (DOJ) over conditions in Alabama prisons.

Since last spring ADOC and the DOJ have been involved in negotiations to address long-documented issues with state prisons. ADOC says the lawsuit, which alleges unconstitutional conditions in Alabama prisons, arrived with no advanced notice and came “in the midst of good progress” of their negotiations with the DOJ.

In Wednesday’s filing, DOJ attorneys say men in Alabama prisons are being deprived of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The state is “deliberately indifferent to the serious and systemic constitutional problems present in Alabama’s prisons for men,” they wrote. According to the complaint, the state has failed to protect male prisoners, who are “at serious risk” of death, violence, and sexual abuse. The lawsuit also says excessive force from correctional employees is common.

DOJ attorneys say ADOC reported nine men were killed by other prisoners in the first half of the year and that conditions have worsened since the DOJ’s investigation into Alabama prisons began in 2016.

According to the lawsuit, “The United States has determined that constitutional compliance cannot be secured by voluntary means.”

In their response, ADOC pledged to “fervently defend [their] staff and Department in court,” saying the federal lawsuit “fails on merit.”

Read ADOC’s statement on the DOJ’s lawsuit below:

“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. 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.

Two of the broad concerns described in the Complaint are well-known by all: staffing challenges and dilapidated facilities. As the ADOC has consistently shared and demonstrated, significant efforts are underway to address these important issues. 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 Governor 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.

There are some limited examples of when Department protocol(s) may not have been followed or where appropriate action(s), after the fact, may not have been taken. But, as continues to be the case, any individual found to be in violation of Alabama law or ADOC policy is held to account, to include referring them to the proper prosecuting authority, when appropriate.  

The DOJ, however, continues to mischaracterize these limited instances as sweeping patterns. The piecemeal anecdotes outlined in the Complaint do not reflect the hard work and important service provided by our correctional staff. As such, this Complaint – by intentionally omitting any reference to those efforts – stands as a true disservice to the many dedicated correctional professionals who provide safety and security within Alabama’s prisons. 

The ADOC, on behalf of Commissioner Dunn, wants all of our Department staff to know that we recognize and are proud of their service and dedication to what is one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

We intend to fervently defend our staff and Department in court and prove that this lawsuit fails on merit, fails to demonstrate sweeping patterns alleged by the DOJ, and fails to appreciate and acknowledge the incredible work our staff performs every single day across Alabama’s correctional system.”


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