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Federal Lawsuit Against Alabama Department of Corrections Long Overdue

Montgomery, Ala. – On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice sued the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) for the state’s repeated failure to meet its obligations to incarcerated men in Alabama under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The suit said that the state failed to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse, protect incarcerated people from excessive force by security staff, and provide constitutionally safe conditions of confinement. 
 
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has been raising the alarm over the substandard conditions in Alabama prisons for years. In 2014, the SPLC and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Project (ADAP) filed, Braggs v. Dunn, a class-action lawsuit seeking to remedy the unconstitutional mental health, medical and dental care in Alabama prisons. In 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson ordered the state to reform the prison mental health care system and directed state officials  to work with the SPLC and ADAP to develop constitutionally adequate mental health provisions.
 
But the problems in Alabama’s prisons go beyond inadequate mental health care. The U.S. Department of Justice has twice put Alabama on notice that it’s prison conditions were unconstitutional when it released findings in April 2, 2019 and July 23, 2020. The report detailed widespread prisoner-on-prisoner physical and sexual violence, and excessive use of force against male prisoners.
 
The following is a statement from Ebony Howard, senior supervising attorney  at the SPLC.
 
“The Department of Justice filing this lawsuit signals what incarcerated people, their families, and advocates have long been waiting for - a clear and unequivocal signal that the failures of the State and Alabama prison system are abhorrent. The inaction with regard to protecting the humanity of incarcerated people is illegal and immoral. 
 
“The same questions arise again for Alabama leaders: What are you going to do? Now that the State is a defendant in another federal lawsuit and again linked to civil and human rights abuses, will leaders remain silent in the face of this crisis?”
 
“History will judge the actions of the people who were entrusted with leadership and whether or not they abide by true principles. Will Alabama finally do what it should have done in 2014, or will the state continue to ignore the crisis of conscience that threatens the state’s moral fiber."