Battling inhumane prison conditions
Living conditions inside the walls of Alabama's prisons were an inhumane nightmare - violent, overcrowded and unsanitary. The strong preyed upon the weak, and guards failed to keep order.
Jerry Lee Pugh, the plaintiff in the Center's class action suit, was savagely beaten by fellow inmates housed in a barracks not long after he entered prison.
The weeklong trial in the historic Pugh v. Lock trial ended abruptly when the state's attorneys admitted what the plaintiffs had maintained for years that living conditions inside the walls of Alabama's prisons were violent, overcrowded, unsanitary and horribly unconstitutional.
In the 1976 landmark ruling that followed, a federal judge described the prisons as insect infested, dilapidated, unsafe, and "wholly unfit for human habitation." The strong preyed upon the weak, and guards failed to keep them safe from harm.
The judge said that the inhumane conditions made it impossible for inmates to "rehabilitate themselves - or to preserve skills and constructive attitudes already possessed - even for those inclined to do so."
Noting that inadequate staff and supervision were only part of the problem, along with the overcrowding and "rampant violence," he also noted the lack of vocational and rehabilitative programs. The judge issued detailed, precedent setting reforms to remedy the Eighth Amendment violations.
The Alabama Board of Corrections remained under the Court's supervision for more than a decade with the Center constantly agitating to bring facilities, procedures, programs and staffing up to constitutional standards.