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SPLC calls on Gov. Bentley to release U.S. Department of Justice letter on Alabama prisons

The Southern Poverty Law Center today called on Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to release the letter delivered today from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announcing that it is opening a wide-ranging investigation into the conditions in Alabama’s prisons.

Update: Governor Bentley released a statement and a copy of the letter from the DOJ early Thursday evening. 

“Only the most egregious of conditions would prompt the federal government to open a major investigation into the state's prison system,” said SPLC president Richard Cohen. “We welcome the investigation and call on Governor Bentley to immediately release the letter he received today from the DOJ so that the people of Alabama can understand the seriousness of the problems the state is facing.”

The SPLC is currently litigating a statewide class action lawsuit alleging that Alabama is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide adequate mental health and medical care to incarcerated Alabamians. The state is also facing multiple lawsuits about rampant violence in its prisons and strikes by prisoners and correctional officers.

“Alabama’s prisons are out of control because the state incarcerates too many people and the prisons are poorly managed,” said Cohen. “Governor Bentley thinks the answer is to spend $1.5 billion on building new prisons, but the problems facing the Alabama Department of Corrections cannot be solved by construction. If we embark on a costly and ill-planned massive prison construction plan without carefully calibrating it to coincide with continued, significant decreases in the state’s prison population, we’re likely to end up where we started — with too many prisons and an unnecessarily high prison population that uses state resources that could be better spent on increasing public safety and improving the lives of all Alabamians.”