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DOJ suing State of Alabama for alleged 8th, 14th Amendment violations in men’s prison system

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday officially filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), marking an escalation in a longstanding dispute regarding the state’s prison system for men.

As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the DOJ provided the state with written notice of the supporting facts for the allegations and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them in previous Notice Reports.

In the first Notice Report issued on April 2, 2019, the DOJ 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. Then, the DOJ on July 23, 2020 issued another Notice Report focused on “excessive force at the hands of prison staff” in Alabama.

The DOJ on Wednesday said that for over 20 months the Justice Department has engaged in negotiations with the State of Alabama without achieving an acceptable settlement that would correct the alleged deficiencies.

The federal government’s complaint filed Wednesday alleges that the conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the U.S. Constitution because the State fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse; fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions; and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

“The United States Constitution requires Alabama to make sure that its prisons are safe and humane,” stated Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s prisons for men and determined that Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence. The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries. The Department of Justice looks forward to proving its case in an Alabama federal courtroom.”

The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation conducted by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama.

“Our office is committed to ensuring that all citizens’ constitutional rights are respected,” commented Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama William R. Chambers Jr. “We will continue to work tirelessly to correct the constitutional deficiencies identified by our investigation into the state prison system.”

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Louis V. Franklin Sr. said, “­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The results of the investigation into safety and excessive force issues within Alabama’s prisons are distressing and continue to require real and immediate attention. We hope the filing of this complaint conveys the department’s continued commitment to ensuring that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Alabama, seeks injunctive relief to address the alleged deficient conditions. The filing contains complaints of unconstitutional conditions of confinement, which must be proven in federal court. The suit does not seek monetary damages.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that one of the primary responsibilities of government is to keep our citizens safe,” added U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard W. Moore. “That responsibility extends to citizens incarcerated within Alabama prisons. Our investigation has demonstrated that constitutionally required standards have not been met in Alabama prisons and this must be corrected. I am disappointed that the efforts of both Alabama officials and Department of Justice officials to find appropriate solutions have not resulted in a mutually agreed upon resolution. Our oath as public officials now requires us to follow the Constitution and to pursue justice in the courts.”

This comes as Governor Kay Ivey’s (R-AL) prison construction plan continues to move forward.

Reacting to the lawsuit on Wednesday evening, Ivey said in a statement, “This is disappointing news, as the state has actively been negotiating in good faith with the Department of Justice following the release of its findings letters. Out of respect for the legal process, we unfortunately cannot provide additional comment at this time.”

“We will, however, push forward with our plan to reimagine and rebuild Alabama’s correctional system from the ground up through the construction of three new regional men’s prisons,” she continued. “The comprehensive efforts underway will go a long way in addressing the long-standing challenges faced by the Alabama Department of Corrections.”

RELATED: Listen: ADOC’s Jeff Dunn answers questions on cost, locations of Ivey new prison proposal — ‘This program is intended to address our most critical need’

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