Ala. prisons agency says federal suit ignores progress

The department has blamed inadequate staffing for many of the problems and said it has made "real strides" to recruit more employees

Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A Justice Department lawsuit over conditions in Alabama's prisons for men ignores progress the state has made to improve these lockups, the Department of Corrections said in response to the complaint.

An agency statement released Thursday night said officials have been working hard to hire more people to work in understaffed prisons, and noted that Gov. Kay Ivey plans to construct three large new prisons that would replace dilapidated structures.

Corrections said it disagrees with allegations made by the Trump administration, which claimed that conditions are so poor in men's prisons that they violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Justice didn't give any warning it was about to sue after “ongoing, exhaustive” negotiations, the state said.

“This move was not made in the spirit of good faith, and only serves to undermine many months of productive conversations that were moving toward a mutual resolution,” said the statement.

The federal government filed suit Wednesday claiming the state fails to protect male prisoners from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff. The system is one of the most understaffed and violent in the country, and state officials are “deliberately indifferent," the suit said.

The suit asks a court to force the state to eliminate unconstitutional conditions, but doesn't detail exactly how that should be done.

A Justice Department report released last year described a culture of violence in state prisons for men, with frequent rapes, beatings and fatal stabbings at the hands of fellow prisoners, and a management system that undercounts homicides and fails to protect prisoners even when warned.

The department has blamed inadequate staffing for many of the problems and said it has made “real strides” to recruit more prison workers. The Ivey administration is negotiating with companies to build three, 3,000-inmate prisons that would be leased by the state.

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