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SPLC Responds to U.S. D.O.J. Letter of Findings on Alabama Prison System

The U.S. Department of Justice today released an unprecedented analysis of the Alabama prison system concluding that conditions at the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) likely violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The letter of findings documents in excruciating detail a staggering level of violence and abuse, an abject failure to properly hire, retain, and train adequate staff, and a basic disregard for human dignity.
 
The Southern Poverty Law Center is calling on Governor Ivey and the ADOC to publicly commit to meeting the immediate and long-term measures outlined by the Department of Justice.
 
Statement of Ebony Howard, SPLC, senior supervising attorney:
 
“The Department of Justice’s findings letter describes ‘an enormous breadth’ of violent conditions in Alabama prisons that amount to nothing less than torture. That these conditions persist in the 21st century is an embarrassment to the state and an unconscionable failing on the part of its leadership. There is no excuse for Governor Ivey and Commissioner Dunn’s knowing disregard of and failure to address the horrors catalogued in DOJ’s letter. As DOJ’s letter makes clear, and as advocates have said for years, Alabama cannot simply build its way out of this crisis. While acknowledging the few modest remedial steps ADOC has taken, the letter clearly demands a complete overhaul of Alabama’s prison system, starting today. 
 
“In the next 49 days we will learn whether Commissioner Dunn, Governor Ivey, and the Alabama Legislature will face the reality they have avoided for so long: the only solution to Alabama’s crisis is to safely reduce Alabama’s prison population while increasing the quality of care and protection provided to incarcerated individuals. Alabama needs a comprehensive and forward-thinking solution that respects taxpayers and the Constitution.”
 
SPLC has been litigating Alabama’s failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to the individuals in its custody for nearly five years. Just this week, Judge Thompson of the U.S. District Court of Middle District Alabama is holding a trial regarding how to address the crisis of suicides in Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC). There have been 15 suicides in the last 15 months in ADOC – a suicide rate of more than double that of the nation. The findings letter issued today states that severe understaffing exposes prisoners to serious harm. Indeed, the staff shortages exacerbate all of the harmful and dangerous practices in ADOC.
 
Statement of Maria Morris, SPLC, senior supervising attorney:
 
“The Department of Justice is not exaggerating when its findings letter characterizes the current staffing levels at the Alabama Department of Corrections as ‘at a crisis level,’ ‘egregious’ and ‘dangerous.’ Alabama’s leadership has repeatedly failed to responsibly address inadequate staffing levels. This is contributing to horrific incidents of violence and suicide among prisoners that are completely preventable but for the incompetence of the ADOC leadership. It is imperative for Governor Ivey and Commissioner Dunn to move swiftly to comply with the court orders in Braggs as the Department of Justice calls for. Alabama must stop wasting time and money on litigation, and start investing in solutions.”