3 weeks 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developing effective prison management, including efforts to curtail the entry of contraband; and replacing an outdated prison system with state-of-the-art correctional facilities designed to safely, effectively and humanely manage and meet the needs of a diverse inmate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

4 hours ago

Mobile Bay eastern shore ranked among best performing places in America

A recent report from Milken Institute found the cities of Daphne, Fairhope and Foley to be among the best performing small cities in America for job and wage growth, as well as other aspects.

Among the 18 cities ranked in the Milken Institute’s 2018 Best-Performing Cities Report, Daphne, Fairhope and Foley, Alabama, ranked as a top performer in the one-year job growth category.

Working in the area’s favor is the effort put in by small businesses adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

Excerpt from the report, as follows:

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Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, located on the state’s Gulf Coast, is a top performer in the one-year job growth category. According to city officials, small businesses have been driving growth, adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

The population of the metro has been growing steadily over a decade, but its population still sits at just a little under 200,000. The city has been praised recently for its eco-friendly strategies to keep its beaches clean.

Ranked first on the list is Bend-Richmond, Oregon, followed by St. George, Utah.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

5 hours ago

Mary Margaret Carroll is a 2019 Woman of Impact

The world of lobbying can be tough — cutthroat, even. This holds true on Goat Hill just as it does on Capitol Hill.

Yet, in Alabama’s highly scrutinized and uber-competitive world of governmental affairs, Mary Margaret Carroll has not just managed to shine while staying above the fray; she has broken into a field that has historically – and recently – essentially been monopolized by men, using her intellect, character, demeanor and work ethic to become a star at one of the state’s premier lobbying shops: Fine Geddie & Associates.

The 2005-2006 Student Government Association president at the University of Alabama, Carroll has been a leader in whatever room she walked into for a long time. That is apparent from the moment you meet her, as former state senator Joe Fine – the co-founder of Fine Geddie – told Yellowhammer News.

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Fine reminisced on the moment he and the firm’s other cofounder, Bob Geddie, met Carroll.

“We met Mary Margaret over lunch in December 2012 and before our hour-long meeting was over, we asked her to hold any other job offers she received,” he shared. “We did not have an opening at the firm at the time, but Bob and I both liked her immediately. She was polished and reserved but very inquisitive.”

And they sure are glad that she did hold other job offers, beginning her career at Fine Geddie shortly after that meeting in 2013, when she became the first and only female professional in Alabama’s oldest governmental affairs shop.

Fine said, “The first week Mary Margaret was with us we began work on a tort reform measure that proved to be one of the most controversial bills I have ever encountered in my career. Mary Margaret was immediately valuable to our strategy development, our coordination with the Governor’s office, and the lobbying effort. She handled herself well at every turn there and has continued to do so since no matter how big or small the task.”

“Notably, she played a critical role very early in her career on important measures that had failed despite decades of prior proposals,” he continued. “Her second-year lobbying, she handled the effort to institute the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. During her third year she negotiated with over 10 stakeholder groups to develop the prison sentencing reform proposal and managed the successful advocacy effort to generate support for it. This was an extraordinary feat – and she did it her own way. Mary Margaret works hard, thinks outside of the box, and adds tremendous value to our clients’ pursuits.”

Geddie echoed these thoughts, emphasizing that Carroll is “an integral part” of the Fine Geddie juggernaut.

“She joined us without previous government relations experience but has a great future,” Geddie remarked. “She has developed a keen insight to the state government decision-making process, rightfully earning the respect of policy makers and her peers. Hardly a day goes by where we do not receive a compliment on her professionalism, class and work product from a lawmaker or a client.”

“At Fine Geddie, we have tried to maintain a balance among our team with backgrounds in law, public policy and execution. Mary Margaret can do it all and she gets better each year,” he concluded.

From promoting the interests of Fortune 500 companies to some of the Yellowhammer State’s preeminent businesses and trade associations, Carroll has become an unquestioned guru on complex public policy issues, gaining the reputation of a direct, honest broker.

“From handling acute issues to leading sweeping reform efforts, Mary Margaret consistently develops thoughtful and effective strategies to address her clients’ interests. She has proven herself capable of handling anything in our firm’s portfolio with optimal results. We are very proud of her,” Fine stated.

Her integrity has been recognized time and time again, exemplified by her becoming one of the first lobbyists in the history of the state to be named to the Alabama State Bar’s Leadership Forum.

Carroll explained to Yellowhammer News, “I try very hard to lead by example.”

“It is imperative to treat others with respect, and equally important to be honest,” she said. “Credibility is everything in government relations work. You cannot advocate effectively or inform the process if you are not trustworthy or do not have a thorough understanding of your position. It requires a great deal of listening to gain a full understanding of the politics surrounding any issue.”

“I love my job,” Carroll emphasized. “It constantly presents me with opportunities to grow intellectually and professionally. Each project presents its own challenges and I am constantly seeing the world through a new lens.”

Her list of accomplishments in just a five-year period is incredible. A mere snapshot of the projects on which Carroll has made a critical contribution would make most 40-year state house veterans jealous.

For example, Carroll was integral in the successful effort for passage of legislation to authorize transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) to expand services statewide. She helped lead negotiations with the various stakeholder groups to overcome opposition and develop the best policy proposal, also coordinating the lobbying and public relations strategy for the effort.

“I love projects where our goal is to pave the way for innovation and the digital economy,” Carroll advised. “In many instances current law reflects public policy concerns that are completely irrelevant to today’s world and may in fact be hindering commerce.”

Whether it was playing a key role in the successful economic development policy effort to incentivize increased use of the state’s port facilities and related capital investment or coordinating the effort to pass criminal sentencing reform designed to reduce prisons overpopulation, she has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands and thousands of Alabamians from her role behind the scenes.

“As a lifelong Alabamian, I always appreciate an opportunity to work on economic development projects that yield tangible results. Most memorable for me have been the effort to establish the historic rehabilitation tax credit program and various projects connected to the Port of Mobile, including the recent effort to fund the expansion,” Carroll said.

This type of service-oriented leadership captures Carroll’s motivation, which can be seen in her free time, too. She is involved with the YMCA Youth in Government program and serves on distinguished advisory boards at the University of Alabama.

Carroll frequently speaks to student groups about her experiences and the various ways one can serve the public and the greater good, noting that her time in student government at UA helped her develop as a leader and get to where she is today.

“It made me realize how much I enjoy problem solving through policy and working with others. But most of all, it taught me the importance of productive discourse and the need to be objective when working with others to resolve an issue,” Carroll stated.

She also has a long history of mentoring young women who are interested in politics and public service.

In fact, she shared that mentoring has been the most rewarding part of her career journey. Carroll had mentors who helped her get to where she is today, and mentoring young people is her way of paying it forward.

“I have been so fortunate to learn from visionary people whose stories have inspired me in many ways,” she said. “I believe we all have certain skills and talents we are meant to pursue in life and I am grateful for those who helped me identify and seize mine.”

Carroll continued, “I enjoy sharing my story and working with young people with the hope that I can help them the way so many have supported me over the years.”

For all the young girls out there aspiring to be a leader, Carroll shared some sage advice.

“There is no substitute for listening to others to gain understanding and hard work,” she said. “Focus on maximizing the opportunities you have been given, not minimizing opportunities for others. Never resort to cutting others to get ahead.”

Carroll stressed, “It is possible to be kind, compassionate and a fierce competitor all at once. Find a way.”

She also outlined how leaders need to be honest with themselves.

“Know what you do not know,” Carroll advised. “My grandfather, an attorney, would often say, ‘There is nothing greener than a new lawyer.’ I am not sure what prompted that tidbit of wisdom, but my guess is that it was premised on the notion that the classroom and the real world are two very different places and present very different tests.”

She concluded, “Those words rang in my head the first time I met the Fine Geddie team. During my initial meeting, I told them I knew nothing about government relations work and asked for advice on the best way to enter the industry. I wanted to learn. My guess is, more often than not, people want to work with, for, and hire people who are constantly seeking to improve themselves and their organizations. This starts with knowing what you do not know and being open to seeing or trying things in a new way.”

It is easy to see why Yellowhammer Multimedia twice previously listed her as a rising star in state politics and has referred to her as “a force for years to come.”

Now, Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mary Margaret Carroll a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

6 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Let’s get over the lottery hump and move on to more lucrative gambling talk

If you want the lottery and expanded gambling in the state of Alabama you should support the lottery bill proposed by State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

Is the bill perfect? Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue it creates some new problems. By not protecting the questionably electronic bingo in pockets of the state, like Greene and Macon counties, this bill gives the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in the state if Attorney General Steve Marshall continues to pursue shutting down these entities and the courts agree with him.

This is not ideal. However, the alternative is to grant those entities a legal status that they do not deserve. If they are operating illegally, they shouldn’t be handed this gift. If they are operating legally, why do they need the protection of the lottery bill proposed by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville)?

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Does this lottery bill allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in Alabama? It does.

Would McClendon’s bill bring in more revenue in the short-term? The analysis says yes.

But what if the lottery bill passes, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians expanded their gambling options and revenue grows and the citizens of the state of Alabama see that there are more revenue options available to the state?

Would a push for wider gambling ensue? Definitely.

Will legislators face calls to license gambling facilities in Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Mobile? Hopefully.

The lottery bill is not the end of the gambling conversation in Alabama. It is the elusive first step.

Let’s get beyond this first part and continue the conversation.

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

7 hours ago

Alabama postal workers to get back pay, benefits

A Florida-based contractor will pay $329,057 in back wages and benefits to 53 postal delivery workers in Montgomery.

AL.com reports the decision comes after an investigation into St. Augustine, Florida-based Postal Fleet Services Inc. by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

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The department says the company violated requirements of two federal acts.

Investigators say Postal Fleet Services failed to pay drivers the prevailing rates for contract work performed for the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail in Montgomery and Tupelo, Mississippi.

The company also failed to pay drivers for sorting mail before their scheduled shifts and for time spent driving from one city to another between local routes.

Postal Fleet Services also failed to pay fringe benefits to employees and did not maintain records of hours employees worked.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Hangout Fest combines music & VIP amenities to create an unforgettable experience

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Since the inaugural Hangout Festival in 2010, Orange Beach has emerged as an annual must-visit destination for music lovers around the world. Now in its tenth year, the festival — known worldwide as simply Hangout — is taking its VIP experiences to a new level, creating what the festival organizers are describing as a “music vacation” that concertgoers will never forget.

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The glittering white, sandy shores of Alabama’s Gulf Coast have long been a tourist attraction rivaling the best-known coastal communities in America and the Caribbean. But when the nation’s hottest bands, world-class dining experiences and unique amenities converge on the Yellowhammer State’s pristine shores, past attendees say something truly magical happens.

“It’s really unlike any other concert experience I’ve ever seen,” multi-time Hangout Fest attendee and Alabama resident Cliff Sims told Yellowhammer News. “It’s the one weekend a year when there’s no question where I’m going to be. It really is the perfect mix of my favorite people, great music, good food, and a well-run event.”

This year’s Hangout Fest, set to take place over the weekend of May 17th, will continue its now decade-long history of featuring some of the hottest names in music. Criss-crossing genres, the festival will be anchored by internationally known acts including Travis Scott, The Lumineers, Khalid, Cardi B, Kygo, The 1975, Diplo, Jimmy Eat World and dozens more.

On top of the musical performances, 2019 concertgoers will also be able to experience other attractions, including a ferris wheel, roller skating rink, beach bonfire, tropical spa and beach volleyball. The festival is also taking full advantage of technology to ensure a smooth experience for concertgoers. The Hangout Fest app allows attendees to create a personalized schedule, based on bands they select. They’ve also set up lockers inside the festival where concertgoers can charge their phones.

And for individuals looking to have an extra high-end experience, VIP and Super VIP options deliver unlimited access to additional perks like golf shuttles between stages, unlimited drinks, a daily buffet featuring food from world-class chefs, air-conditioned restrooms and a stage-side, VIP-only pool where they can enjoy the music while relaxing in the cool water. Super VIP’s will have all these perks and more, including hot tubs, catered gourmet meals in an air-conditioned dining room and exclusive access to the Super VIP-only Backstage Beach.

As an added bonus, the food exclusive to Super VIP’s will be crafted by some of the nation’s best culinary artists. Award-winning Chefs Annie Pettry, Cory Bar and Jason Goodenough will create memorable, fresh, mouth-watering meals for concertgoers to enjoy in between musical performances.

For the most incredible all-inclusive experience, the Hangout Fest is partnering with Aero Air Charter to offer attendees the Big Kahuna Air Package. This package includes everything Super VIP’s enjoy along with a round-trip private chartered flight straight to Gulf Shores, 24/7 concierge service, door to door transportation and more. Up to six friends can join in on the chartered flight with options for larger groups.

Tickets to what promises to be the music event of the year are now available at HangoutMusicFest.com.