Ala. DOC 'disappointed' by DOJ report

ADOC said the 30-page report "hinders the progress made by our department"


By William Thornton
Alabama Media Group

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Corrections said today it is “disappointed in the surprise manner” the U.S. Justice Department released a report Thursday, which detailed acts of violence by correctional officers against inmates in Alabama’s men’s prisons.

In a statement, ADOC called the report’s release “orchestrated,” saying it “hinders the progress made by our department to address the long-standing challenges facing our correctional system.”

The 30-page report detailed violence against prisoners by correctional officers in Alabama’s men’s prisons. It came after the agency began investigating conditions in Alabama state prisons in 2016, and after DOJ put Alabama on notice last year when it found the state “routinely” violating prisoners’ constitutional rights by failing to prevent inmate-on-inmate violence and sexual assault. As with a 2019 report, the DOJ concluded that many acts of violence can be attributed to conditions in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

ADOC’s statement came after others yesterday by Gov. Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall. Ivey said, ”We all desire an effective, Alabama solution to this Alabama problem.” Marshall struck a more confrontational tone. “Alabama will not be bullied into a perpetual consent decree to govern our prison system, nor will we be pressured to reach such an agreement with federal bureaucrats, conspicuously, 53 days before a presidential election,” Marshall said.

DOJ has given the state 49 days to agree upon terms of a consent decree or face a lawsuit, which Marshall says he will fight.

In a nine-paragraph statement, ADOC detailed remedies and proposed reforms it has made to address some of the issues in the DOJ investigation. Some of those reforms sound similar to proposals that came at the end of yesterday’s report. Alabama is currently planning to build three new men’s prisons, though advocates say the problems within the system will not be solved by building new facilities.

The department, in its statement, rejected outright that it had done little to address understaffing in its prisons, pointing to a 2018 federal court order that the court found would remedy constitutional violations “when implemented,” something it says is currently happening.

ADOC also said it announced last December moves to lessen the risk of excessive force incidents, which included the formation of a new Violence Reduction Task Force.

“The work of the Task Force has resulted in protocol, programmatic, staffing, and training assessments as well as actions – the full benefits of which have yet to be realized with the implementation of certain outputs still in early stages,” the department stated.

Among those recommendations are training, health and wellness interventions for correctional officers and staff, emphasis on inmate rehabilitation programs and enhanced surveillance, such as more cameras in facilities and on officers. ADOC said it has completed use-of-force refresher training sessions for staff at each of its major facilities and is now in the process of conducting these training sessions at its work release and work center facilities. It has also obtained a grant to purchase cameras, with policy being written and training in development.

“These body-worn cameras will not be event-activated – they are ‘always on’ to incentivize and ensure behavioral accountability among both inmates and correctional staff,” the statement read.

ADOC also said it is created a new non-security special investigator position, which will conduct use-of-force reviews within each facility.

“The Department is dedicated to providing safety and security for staff and inmates alike, creating more desirable working conditions that attract prospective correctional officers who want to make a difference in the lives of inmates, and rehabilitating incarcerated individuals so that they may successfully reenter society and positively contribute to our world,” ADOC said. “To fully accomplish this mission, we must have additional resources and capabilities in place that do not exist in our current facilities.”

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©2020 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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