AG Marshall: DOJ report highlighting abuses within Alabama prisons an effort to prejudice public opinion, including members of the legislature
During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” on Friday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall criticized the Justice Department for the timing and nature of a report released last week highlighting deficiencies throughout the Alabama Department of Corrections’ prison system.
According to a report released last week, “systemic unconstitutional conditions” exist throughout Alabama’s prison system, and it cited abuses, some of which were very graphic.
Marshall called some of the findings in the report “dated,” and he suggested it could impede the progress that is underway within the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to resolve those matters.
“A couple of things for me — I was very disappointed in how the report was released and more importantly the heavy-handed nature in which the Department of Justice talked about resolution as well as the progress we’ve made thus far in trying to find an amicable resolution between both parties,” he said. “The information in that report, much of which is dated, also does not include the significant efforts made by the department to be able to remedy some of the issues that’s been identified. We, throughout on behalf of the state, have acknowledged that there are areas we need to improve, that there are parts of the system we want very much want to work through and improve for the conditions of the inmates, as well as the guards. But yet, demanding that we engage in a settlement through a consent decree — almost dictating the terms that would allow a third party out of Washington or in California or New York to control the pocketbook of the state of Alabama — I’m not going to allow that to happen.”
Marshall detailed efforts between the state and federal governments to find a resolution, and pointed to improvements made to the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, which was also once under the scrutiny of the federal government, as proof the state of Alabama was capable.
“I think we are absolutely on a path, and it gives the public a misimpression as to what is being done to remedy these particular issues,” Marshall said. “You know, the other thing is I also thought we were on a path with regard to the resolution of this matter. We’ve had over 50 in-person meetings. We’ve had multiple telephone calls. We’ve had 14 Zoom meetings during the COVID process. We’ve shared 50-plus drafts of proposals back and forth among the parties. And we’ve done that in a less than a year period that we’ve had that discussion because we didn’t get initial settlement proposal from the Department of Justice until almost two-and-a-half months from when we received the initial letter. So, we continue to work hard. We want to remedy this problem. What I wished the Department of Justice would have done is what I’ve proposed back in 2017, and that is there is no need for a lengthy investigation. We could sit down and be able to acknowledge where the areas of deficiencies were and work together to try to resolve it. We did that successfully at Tutwiler, where it is now a model prison. Now, I thought that we could have done that more quickly and more effectively had we taken that approach from the beginning.”
Alabama’s top law enforcement official said one of the results of the Justice Department’s report was that it had prejudiced opinion, including members of the legislature.
“We had no knowledge it was coming out until shortly beforehand,” Marshall added. “Didn’t have an opportunity to even review it before it was given to the public, as well as an opportunity to be able to specifically respond to information that was either dated or what we believe is not accurate. And so what that report has simply done is prejudice many, including those in the legislature, to believe things that are simply not true about our corrections system as well as the efforts we’ve made this far in trying to resolve this amicably with the Department of Justice.”
He maintained the state of Alabama would proceed with efforts but added the ultimate goal was to avoid a consent decree from the Department of Justice.
“I think we’re going to continue to push forward with negotiations and do it in good faith,” Marshall said. “But again, to the extent that a consent decree, which would allow for monitors and a federal judge to have control over our Department of Corrections for what may be a period after I’m on this earth is not something that I’m going to allow. And we saw the very clear policy the Department of Justice when [U.S. Attorney General Jeff] Sessions was there is consent decrees are not something except in exceptional circumstances. We think that we have the ability as we have proven through Tutwiler to correct issues that we’ve identified and to be able to do it correctly and believe that we can reach a resolution that is not in the form of a consent decree but is acceptable to both parties.”
Marshall also explained the report’s findings, some of which he reiterated were not “new news,” had resulted in actions taken by the ADOC, adding that in some cases included criminal charges.
“They’re not new news,” he replied. “And, in fact, proactively the Department of Corrections has taken actions against individuals including charging guards with crimes. They’ve done their job to make sure they remedy what is a clear violation, not only of policy but of law. But to some extent, my concern is the graphic nature to which that is described was an effort by the Department of Justice to prejudice public opinion in a way to put pressure on us to do something that we shouldn’t do for the best interests for the state of Alabama. I don’t litigate that way, and I’m not going to litigate that way. At the same time, I’m going to be strong for the people of Alabama to make sure that we don’t allow the federal bureaucrats to try to take over our corrections system.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.