HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Following two federal fact-finding reports and daily negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Alabama, earlier this week the DOJ sued Alabama for several constitutional violations centering on prison conditions across the state.
Alabama is looking to build new prisons, but according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that alone will not likely solve the issues spelled out in the lawsuit.
“They’re so concerned that even under a Justice Department that is headed under President Trump, they would file this complaint,” said senior supervising attorney Ebony Howard of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The first step in remedying the situation, in the eyes of Howard, is for Alabamians to reexamine morally what the purpose of a prison and rehabilitation is. Given the state’s deep ties to faith, Howard sees the issue potentially being something most people can agree on and rally around.
“Many of those people believe in a Christ who was about love, who was about forgiveness, and who was about everything that encapsulates mercy,” said Howard.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall called the timing of the suit inappropriate, whereas Howard says the continued unconstitutional conditions in the prison system cannot wait. Howard says the state could see some of the problems dissipate if more money was allotted by legislatures to better fund the Alabama Department of Corrections. Only then, says Howard, can the department actually pay for good prison staff.
“The court has ordered ADOC has to hire about 2,000 corrections officers by February 2022,” said Howard.
Governor Kay Iven once said about 90 percent of Alabama prisoners will eventually be released. Howard says those prisoners are being released as tortured souls with little to no tools gained from their “rehabilitation.” Howard says the prolonged legal battles between states and the DOJ have been long documented. She points to the extreme case in California where prisoners were eventually released early by a judge’s order.
“After a very rigorous legal process, there was a release order. I want to be very clear; I don’t think we are close to that right now in Alabama. But that’s why California is the cautionary tale,” said Howard.
The SPLC is confident a new DOJ will still pursue this federal suit against Alabama when President-Elect Joe Biden assumes office. It is worth noting that Senator Doug Jones has been rumored to be a candidate for Attorney General. He very well could be heading up an Alabama-specific case in his home state.
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