Justice Department investigators found that Alabama’s prison system – which has the highest homicide rate in the nation – have permitted such murders, along with rapes and other forms of violence, to go unchecked for decades.
Investigators place the blame on overcrowding and understaffing, and allege the state routinely violates prisoners’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from such violence and sexual abuse. In a state that considers the Second Amendment virtually sacred, there is little regard for the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. It’s not like Alabama officials were unaware of the scope of the problem, as little has changed since the 1970s.
Twenty-four Murders in Three Years
Alabama’s state prison system consists of 13 facilities housing 16,000 inmates. The Alabama Department of Corrections records indicate that 24 prisoners were murdered by other inmates between January 2015 and June 2018, although the number is undoubtedly higher than that.
It is believed at least three additional deaths occurred during that period that should have been classified as homicides but were not. The Justice Department reports these deaths were attributed to natural causes when in fact they resulted from prisoner on prisoner violence.
The investigators concluded that Alabama ignores the rampant incidents of sexual abuse in its prison system, attributing these rapes to consensual gay sex. The Justice Department notes that there was an implication that gay men couldn’t suffer rape. In some instances, inmates reporting sexual assaults were asked to sign liability releases by prison authorities. Alabama’s women prisoners are already overseen by the federal government because of prior staff sexual abuse.
The Justice Department’s report cites just one week in September 2017, as an example of the depth of the Alabama prison system’s issue. During that otherwise ordinary week, one prisoner was killed, six were severely beaten, three were stabbed, four were sexually assaulted, and one person died from a drug overdose. Keep in mind those were the incidents the department knew about – the actual numbers are likely higher.
500 New Guards Needed
Investigators describe skeleton crews working at many Alabama prisons, forcing officials to establish voluntary mandatory overtime on staff. The warden at Alabama’s death row prison informed investigators she has just 11 guards available per shift to oversee 800 prisoners.
The Justice Department recommends hiring at least 500 new guards immediately to deal with the problem. However, in an interview, state senator Cam Ward, chairman of the Alabama prison oversight committee, said that finding that many employees in the current good economy may prove difficult, as the working conditions are dangerous and the pay not that attractive.
In February, the state filed a report that it required 2,300 prison employees within the next four years. Ward said prison reform is not politically popular, with most constituents preferring to spend money on education and other priorities.
A Letter to the Governor
In a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey dated April 2, Justice Department investigators informed her that 49 days after the date of the notice, the Attorney General might initiate a lawsuit under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (“CRIPA”).
However, the letters state that the Justice Department would prefer to work cooperatively with the Alabama Department of Corrections to address the violations. Should Alabama’s problem not have an Alabama solution, to paraphrase Ivey, the federal government could take over the prison system.
Inmates have the right not to be abused. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.