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developing effective prison management, including efforts to curtail the entry of contraband; and replacing an outdated prison system with state-of-the-art correctional facilities designed to safely, effectively and humanely manage and meet the needs of a diverse inmate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

6 hours ago

Tuberville campaign bus catches fire; No one injured

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign bus caught fire on an interstate in Northeast Alabama on Wednesday.

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office at 8:26 p.m. posted two pictures of the bus ablaze at the 227-mile marker of I-59 northbound.

Tuberville was not aboard the vehicle at the time.

The only occupant, a volunteer driving the bus, escaped unharmed. The exact cause of the fire was not immediately known.

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The bus has been a staple of Tuberville’s “The People vs. The Swamp” campaign tour across Alabama during this election cycle.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News later in the evening, Tuberville campaign manager Paul Shashy said, “Coach Tuberville’s candidacy has obviously caught fire with voters…and our bus has, too. We are thankful that no one was hurt in the incident and for the remarkable first responders who assisted immediately. The fire occurred on a test drive shortly after maintenance.”

Tuberville will face former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on July 14 in Alabama’s Republican senatorial primary runoff. The GOP nominee will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

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

11 hours ago

Army secretary visits Dynetics facility in Huntsville — ‘What you do protects our way of life’

HUNTSVILLE — Secretary of the United States Army Ryan McCarthy visited a facility in Huntsville on Wednesday. He talked about the necessity of cutting edge military technology and thanked employees for their hard work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The location McCarthy visited, the Dynetics MidCity Aerospace Integration Facility, is a new satellite building of Dynetics in Huntsville that is still under construction.

The facility will construct Hypersonic Glide Body for missiles that will be able to travel the distance between Huntsville and Los Angeles in under 13 minutes according to Paul Turner, the project manager at Dynetics who oversees the facility.

McCarthy said the military needed weapons like the ones produced in part in Huntsville “to ensure that we have the technological margin on the battlefield to win for decades to come.”

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“The work you do here will affect our future,” added the secretary.

“Know what you do protects our way of life,” he told the Dynetics employees.

RELATED: Alabama leads development of U.S. Army’s hypersonic weapons — ‘A critical priority’

Tuesday was the 46th anniversary of Dynetics’ founding. The company, purchased in 2019, is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos Incorporated.

The MidCity expansion is due to completed by year’s end, according to Turner. The exact details of the manufacturing and production that will take place inside is classified by the federal government.

Details provided to the press say that the building will have an environmental testing lab for examining the effects certain conditions have on manufactured materials. The facility will also see an amount of assembly, production and integration of some of the most advanced hypersonic weapons in the military’s arsenal.

Hypersonic weapons can travel at MACH 5, five times faster than the speed of sound, or about 13,000 miles per hour.

The building is 190,000 square feet and will be used entirely for classified manufacturing and assembly.

(Henry Thornton/YHN)

Displayed outside of the facility on Wednesday was the type of truck that would transport and provide launching capabilities for the hypersonic weapons manufactured in part at the new Dynetics facility.

Before the weapons assembled in Huntsville are ready for integration into the military’s arsenal they are shipped to a Lockheed Martin facility in Portland, Oregon, where they undergo a final set of integrations according to Turner.

The goal is to have them deployed on the battlefield by 2023, he added.

“The reason why I wanted to come down here was to thank all of you for enduring the hardships of this COVID-19 pandemic,” said McCarthy to the assembled Dynetics employees on Wednesday.

(The secretary stayed for a few minutes after his remarks to thank personally several assembled employees.) (Henry Thornton/YHN)

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05), who represents the district containing the new Dynetics plant, told Yellowhammer News he would like to “thank Secretary McCarthy for taking the time out of his busy schedule to see the Tennessee Valley’s important and exceptional national security work on missile defense, hypersonics weapons, directed energy and the like.”

Brooks said he was voting on defense bills in Washington so he could not be there in person, but Brooks added that he was glad that it was being acknowledged that “[m]any of the world’s best engineers, scientists, and professionals make up the Redstone Arsenal community” in Huntsville.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) tweeted, “[Secretary of the Army McCarthy’s] visit to Dynetics in Huntsville highlights the critical role Alabama plays in defending our nation. Proud the [United States Army] is prioritizing the development of hypersonic systems and pleased Secretary McCarthy saw firsthand the progress being made in our state.”

Secretary McCarthy himself was bullish on the United States’ fight against the coronavirus during his speech.

“Our researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Development Command are central to the vaccine development, and grinding towards an outcome where we’re going to have advance therapeutics and vaccines delivering at scale to the American people by the late fall of this year,” McCarthy told the audience.

McCarthy acknowledged that the wait between now and late fall was going to feel like a long time.

“Hard times don’t last, hard people do,” he said near his conclusion.

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

12 hours ago

Alexander Shunnarah donates 777 pizzas to frontline workers at two Alabama hospitals

Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. recently participated in a national challenge to feed frontline heroes across the United States.

A release from Shunnarah’s firm outlined that many essential workers are frequently working long hours while risking their own health and safety during these difficult times — so the firm wanted to do something to show their appreciation.

The challenge – for law firms to purchase 777 pizzas from their local pizzerias to feed frontline workers — was initially started by Larry Nussbaum of Boston’s Nussbaum Law Group, PC.

The number is a nod to the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which codifies the right to a jury trial in certain civil cases and inhibits courts from overturning a jury’s findings of fact.

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Shunnarah purchased more than $8,000 worth of pizzas from Slice Pizza and Brewhouse and Pizzeria GM for health care workers at UAB Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital.

“Participating in this challenge was a true honor and small token of our firm’s appreciation for healthcare staff in our community and across the nation,” Shunnarah said in a statement.

“With this challenge we were able to help local restaurants and our frontline heroes who have been going above and beyond the call of duty throughout this pandemic,” he added.

Shunnarah accepted this challenge from Laborde Earles in Lafayette, Louisiana. After completing it in Birmingham, Shunnarah challenged Scott, Vicknair, Hair & Checki in New Orleans, as well as Disability Attorneys of Michigan.

RELATED: Alexander Shunnarah wins national Golden Gavel Award

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

13 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Requiring cloth coverings is a violation of your freedom? No, please wear a mask when prudent

As a conservative commentator, columnist, TV host and radio host I have had my fair share of run-ins with callers, guests, friends and enemies alike who insist that wearing a cloth covering over their face is a violation of some non-existent right to not have their pie-hole covered.

Show me where it is in the Constitution — either the United States or 1901 Alabama Constitution — and we can talk.

You can’t, so we won’t.

What I will do is tell you where all of this is heading if we don’t pull our heads out of the sand and start wearing masks in larger numbers — like we did when all of this started.

Your city, town and the State of Alabama will at some point mandate the wearing of masks.

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Just wait. If the numbers continue to rise, the restrictions will return.

You will whine, “But … Dale! They can’t make me wear a piece of cloth over a part of my body.”

They can.

Alabama Code 13A-12-130

(a) A person commits the crime of public lewdness if:

(1) He exposes his anus or genitals in a public place and is reckless about whether another may be present who will be offended or alarmed by his act;  or

(2) He does any lewd act in a public place which he knows is likely to be observed by others who would be affronted or alarmed.

(b) Public lewdness is a Class C misdemeanor.

Is your nose the same as your genitals? No.

Is your mouth the same as your anus? No.

Now, I am not a simple small-town southern lawyer, but I think that I could probably rationalize a similar law for the part of your body that expels droplets that contain the coronavirus.

Should they? No.

Mandatory mask ordinances and orders are a bad idea because they are generally unenforceable, but the ignorant resistance to this is just as asinine.

I’ve been told masks cut oxygen and cause people to pass out.

This is clearly not true. The guy working at Walmart wears a mask eight hours a day, and he can power through it.

I’ve been told rape victims and people with autism can’t wear masks.

Let’s ignore that. Even if true, this has nothing to do with the science and is just a ridiculous red herring. This is not about 100% compliance.

I have been told that the surgeon general said not to wear masks early on in this pandemic.

What changed?

A lot.

1. The numbers
2. The understanding of the virus
3. The availability of PPE

The government shouldn’t be in the business of policing this, because it would require the police to make this work.

But what about our new socially conscious corporations? They are all about performative wokeness and their ham-fisted statements about “Pride” and #BlackLivesMatter this month, right?

If they really believe that #BlackLivesMatter (or #AllLivesMatter), they should require people to wear masks inside their stores. Obviously, this puts the enforcement on an hourly retail employee and places their employees against an army of people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Go on social media, and see how reasonable those people are.

But if they believe this is important, make these people act out. Shame them.

Here is the bottom line: All the people who refuse to wear masks in indoor public-settings have nothing on their side except the willingness to be stubborn.

The anti-mask crowd and the folks rioting in the streets are very similar in attitude, but the anti-mask crowd doesn’t have the guts to actually do anything.

They express it online and on social media, but they are an obnoxious minority, and anonymity breeds stupidity. But the Internet is not real life.

Overall, 65% of U.S. adults say that they have personally worn a mask in stores or other businesses all or most of the time in the past month, while 15% say they did this some of the time. Relatively small shares of adults say they hardly ever (9%) or never (7%) wore a mask in the past month, and 4% say they have not gone to these types of places.

Polling shows most Americans support wearing masks, but more should be doing it. Unfortunately, those that need to be convinced are unwilling to be reasoned with.

This attitude only drags out this issue, makes it worse, and damages our state further.

Also, President Donald Trump disagrees with this line of thinking, and agrees with me.

If this petulant attitude keeps up and numbers of cases keep rising, you will see more ordinances, and a state-wide mandate will follow.

Wear the stupid mask in public, or the government will attempt to make you.

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

13 hours ago

Season 2 Episode 2: Best Auburn athlete nicknames

As we continue to be without sports, hopefully for not much longer, the guys talk about their favorite Auburn nicknames from “Smoke” to the “Round Mound of Rebound.” They also discuss some of the recent happenings in recruiting, Auburn transfer news and Jared Harper’s new team.

Please note: As usual, this episode was recorded right before something newsworthy happened in the Auburn realm, so Cam Newton to the Patriots will be addressed in the next one.

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