10 months ago

DOJ: Conditions in Alabama men’s prisons violate Constitution

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama on Wednesday concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

According to a press release, the DOJ concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the men’s prisons fail to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, as well as fail to provide prisoners with safe conditions.

The Eight Amendment says, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the DOJ provided the State of Alabama written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.

“The Constitution guarantees all prisoners the right to be housed in safe conditions and not be subjected to violence and sexual abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result. The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns.”

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey responded, saying, “We appreciate the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure open lines of communication with the State of Alabama.”

“DOJ has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time,” she continued. “Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety, making certain that this Alabama problem has an Alabama solution.”

Remedying the situation

The governor’s office advised that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has already acknowledged many of the issues in the DOJ’s findings and has been actively working to remedy these concerns by improving correctional officer hiring and retention; developing effective prison management, including efforts to curtail the entry of contraband; and replacing an outdated prison system with state-of-the-art correctional facilities designed to safely, effectively and humanely manage and meet the needs of a diverse inmate population.

This is affirmed by the DOJ stating in its finding letter, which reads, “We recognize ADOC has begun to make some positive changes in recent years.”

The prison construction plan being spearheaded by the Ivey administration is a vital part of correcting the critical issues outlined by the DOJ.

“ADOC voluntarily assisted the DOJ in every reasonable way with the investigation,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn stated. “Our primary objective is to ensure each facility provides a humane, secure, and safe environment for inmates, and that reforms already in place and proposed bring about positive, tangible changes throughout the prison system.”

He added, “In response to DOJ’s findings, it is important to understand all the current efforts ADOC has taken and will continue to take to improve the conditions of confinement within the male prison system. Governor’s Ivey’s commitment to working closely with the Legislature to resolve this generational problem will ultimately lead to a 21st Century prison system.”

Alabama’s U.S. Attorneys showed confidence in the state’s ability to correct the problems while emphasizing how serious the problems are.

“This massive undertaking alleges constitutional troubles in the Alabama Department of Corrections which are serious, systemic, and in need of fundamental and comprehensive change,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay Town stated. “That being said, I have great confidence in the State of Alabama’s resolve to correct the prison system’s problems. The commitment by Governor Ivey, Commissioner Dunn, and so many others in the State’s leadership to affirmatively address these inherited issues offers great promise of our development of a meaningful remedy.”

“An extraordinary amount of time and effort was expended to investigate this matter,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Louis Franklin, Sr. said. “Although the results of this investigation are disturbing, I look at this as an opportunity to acknowledge that the problems are real and need to be addressed immediately. We are committed to working with State officials to ensure that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

“The United States Constitution bans ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ but the conditions found in our investigation of Alabama prisons provide reasonable cause to believe there is a flagrant disregard of that injunction,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard Moore added. “The failure to respect the rule of law by providing humane treatment for inmates in Alabama prisons is a poor reflection on those of us who live and work in Alabama. We are better than this. We do not need to tarry very long assessing blame, but rather commit to righting this wrong and spare our State further embarrassment. The task is daunting, but one we must embrace now without reservation. I am confident that Governor Ivey and the Legislative leadership in the State of Alabama understand the nature of this inherited problem and that they are committed to sustainable solutions.”

Efforts for the improved hiring and retention of correctional staff have recently been bolstered with the state legislature’s $86 million funding appropriations in 2018 and 2019 for hiring additional correctional and health services staff. These efforts continue with a $31 million request for ADOC’s proposed 2020 budget, which would help the department hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all security personnel.

Continued multi-agency law enforcement security operations, like one recently conducted at the St. Clair Correctional Facility on February 28, utilize drug detection canines and drone technology to confiscate contraband at prison facilities to improve safety among inmates and correctional staff.

ADOC has also expanded its increased oversight of mental health service delivery, with the creation and addition of multiple mental health oversight staff positions and staff-wide training. Additionally, with assistance from nationally recognized clinical mental health experts, the department developed a comprehensive mental health program for standard mental health screening, crisis and suicide intervention, prevention and specialized mental health treatment.

The Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama initiated the investigation in October 2016 under CRIPA, which authorizes the Department to take action when it has reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.

This investigation was conducted by attorneys with the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama.

Update 9:55 a.m.:

State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke with reporters Wednesday morning. He advised that all three of Alabama’s U.S. Attorneys briefed state officials in person on the DOJ findings on Tuesday.

Ward said the DOJ has given the state 49 days to propose a plan to fix the problems.

“The report’s pretty damning for the state. But I think we can do it,” he said, adding it was too early to say whether a special session of the legislature will be needed.

Ivey’s proposed budget would fix staffing problems, as long as the state continues to hire 500 new correctional employees annually for the next four years, according to Ward.

However, he added that overcrowding and violence problems are still a work in progress.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Bruce Pearl praises religious freedom in Alabama — ‘I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith’

Speaking to members of the media Monday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl lauded the religious freedom he enjoys living in the state of Alabama. He also called for unity and spoke strongly against anti-Semitism.

Pearl last spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

“Today has always been a difficult day for me as it Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the coach said on Monday in the opening statement of his press availability.

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“I was born in 1960, 15 years after we opened up the gates in Auschwitz and discovered the atrocities,” he continued. “We vow to never let that happen again to anyone. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing. As a Jewish man, I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve seen its ugly face many times.”

Pearl explained, “That’s why I’m so blessed to live in this country where there is great religious freedom. I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith.”

“The great challenge for me has always been that we are brothers. We are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all related,” he outlined. “Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. That makes us brothers because we have the same father – Abraham the father of many nations. Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew. That makes me brothers with my Christian brothers. If we can focus on that, whether you agree with it or not, that’s not my point. The point is we have a lot more in common than we have apart. We should celebrate those. We should never tolerate racism or something like anti-Semitism. What I would ask you all to remember is: never again.”

RELATED: Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Ivey previews 2020 State of the State — ‘Challenges to address’

MONTGOMERY — Speaking at a gathering of the Alabama Council of Association Executives at Montgomery City Hall on Tuesday morning, Governor Kay Ivey gave a glimpse of her top priorities heading into the 2020 state legislative session.

The session gavels in at noon this coming Tuesday, February 4 — seven days from Ivey’s remarks. Her 2020 State of the State Address will follow the start of the session that evening, before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Ivey took to the podium Tuesday morning to an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“Already, 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for our state and our people,” the governor said.

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While noting the “great things” going on with the Yellowhammer State’s record-breaking economy, Ivey added, “But y’all, we do have some work to do and some challenges to address.”

She urged everyone to tune into her State of the State Address next week for more specifics while broadly underlining some of the “challenges” she will discuss in that speech and tackle this year.

The governor listed “the upcoming Census, our prison concerns, healthcare, mental healthcare and education reform” as the top 2020 issues.

“2020 will be a make or break year regarding our Census. … I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a full, accurate count in the 2020 Census,” Ivey stressed. “These numbers directly impact our representation in the United States House of Representatives and directly impact billions — with a ‘b’ — of dollars that come to our state, including funds for community programs, healthcare, education and job opportunities.”

“Ten years ago when we had the [last] Census, an estimated one million children went uncounted [in Alabama],” she continued. “Folks, we’ve got to close this gap and be sure that every person who’s living and breathing in Alabama completes a Census form and returns it — parents do it for their children. This is a must.”

Transitioning to her next priority, Ivey lamented, “Another large issue that has gone unaddressed in our state for decades is our heinous prison conditions.”

She acknowledged the state’s prison problems as “multifaceted and longstanding.”

In turn, Ivey said, a “multifaceted solution” will be needed.

“Y’all, this is an Alabama problem, and we’re going to have an Alabama solution for it,” the governor added. “It’s absolutely imperative we in the state of Alabama solve our prison problems. If we don’t, the Department of Justice will come in, take over, control the administration, control our funds … so failure is not an option.”

Ivey subsequently urged all Alabamians to vote “yes” on statewide Amendment One on March 3. She referred to this as the type of “bold action” needed to improve the state’s public education system.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Three partners elected at Balch & Bingham

One of Alabama’s most prestigious law firms has elected three new partners, the firm announced on Tuesday.

Ryan Hodinka, Alan Lovett and Dan Ruth will receive the much-desired designation with Balch & Bingham, a firm that has over 200 attorneys.

All three are based in the firm’s Birmingham office and work in high-impact areas of Balch’s wide-ranging offerings.

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“I am pleased to welcome this talented group of emerging leaders to our partnership. They have demonstrated the highest ideals of client service, collaboration and commitment to excellence,” said Stan Blanton, Balch & Bingham managing partner.

Hodinka focuses on litigation, where he represents companies in matters concerning commercial, construction and products liability.

Lovett works mainly on energy issues. He will give guidance to utility companies in commercial and regulatory issues. Lovett also specializes in all aspects of nuclear energy production.

Ruth’s primary area of concern is corporations. Ruth will advise all manner of companies and organizations on issues like mergers and acquisitions, tax controversies and economic development initiatives.

“Their talents and dedication will continue to lead the way for our clients, staff and attorneys well into the future,” added Blanton.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

7 Things: Push for impeachment trial witnesses is complicated, Sessions surges as Tuberville stalls, eight dead in boat dock fire and more …

7. Rallying outside of Doug Jones’ office over impeachment

  • A group of people gathered together outside of U.S. Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) office in Birmingham to ask Jones to acquit President Donald Trump in the Senate impeachment trial.
  • There’s another rally planned for Mobile. Last week, there was a rally held outside of Jones’ office in Huntsville.

6. Alabama mayors want violent offenders to stay in jail

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  • The mayors from the 10 largest cities in Alabama met to discuss a range of issues, one of them being judges being given more ability to deny bail for those accused of violent crimes. State Representative Chip Brown (R-Mobile) is currently sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would give judges more freedom with this issue.
  • At the meeting, Mayor Tommy Battle referenced the death of Huntsville police officer Billy Clardy ⅠⅠⅠ, saying, “We lost an officer to someone who never should have been out of jail from another state.”

5. Immigration restrictions allowed by Supreme Court

  • The “public charge” restriction on immigration has been allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the restriction that would allow the government to deny immigrants entry if they were believed to require public assistance.
  • The vote was 5-4, dividing the court’s conservatives and liberals. A senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program Claudia Center said, “This policy is yet another way for the Trump administration to hurt immigrants. It enshrines the false stereotype that people with disabilities do not contribute to our society. Families will suffer. Congress has repeatedly declared that disability discrimination violates federal law. This rule must be stopped.”

4. Education lottery coming to Alabama legislature

  • State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Dothan) said that he will be introducing a constitutional amendment that would bring an education lottery to the ballot for voters in November. Clouse said that the “general sentiment … is that it needs to be dedicated to education.”
  • Half of the money brought in by the paper lottery would go to Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, while the other half would go to college scholarships. According to Clouse, the fiscal office has estimated that the lottery could bring in $167 million per year. He believes this is the kind of lottery constituents want.

3. Eight deaths confirmed in Jackson County fire

  • In the fire that burned at least 35 vessels at Guntersville Lake, Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus has confirmed that the eight people who were previously said to be missing died during the fire.
  • Necklaus did say that “that number could go up” as they discover more from the boats that sank. There have been at least seven people hospitalized from the incident.

2. Sessions is leading while Tuberville falls

  • New internal Sessions campaign polling data released by Breitbart News and conducted by Wes Anderson of On Message, Inc. shows that former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions leads the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama polling at 43%.
  • U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) has moved up to second place with 22%, while former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville is in third with 21%.

1. Witnesses seem like a long shot still

  • After the release of a story concerning former National Security Advisor John Bolton, some Republicans are likely to vote for witnesses while Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA) is suggesting a one-for-one trade seems more likely to want to see witnesses
  • Republicans will want to see witnesses like U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), former Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, all of which Democrats have declared as non-starters.

6 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Why won’t Doug Jones just say he wants to remove Trump?

Yes, President Donald Trump seemed to lie about withholding aid from Ukraine to get the investigation into the Bidens and Ukraine. No, he will not be removed from office.

You know this, Donald Trump knows this, the media knows this, John Bolton knows this and even U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) knows this.

He also knows that he will be voting to remove the President of the United States from office and all his protestations about needing more information are just theater so he can pretend he is being thoughtful of the process.

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He said it in December.

He said it last week.

He said it Sunday.

If there are real concerns about what went on here, have the House of Representatives investigate the matter fully and call witnesses.

But does this mean the whistleblower, Joe Biden and Hunter Biden need to testify?

Of course not.

Have witnesses, don’t have witnesses — the outcome has been predetermined from the very beginning

He did this same dance during the confirmation hearings of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His vote was predetermined from the beginning.

But he pretended otherwise before giving away the game and giving us a preview of his vote.

Every U.S. Senator has made up his mind about this situation, as have most Americans.

Stop the charade. Let’s stop pretending we don’t know where this is going, and let’s move on.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.