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Federal judge maintains staffing levels still an issue in DOJ lawsuit against Alabama prison system

A federal judge has refused the state of Alabama’s request to dismiss the issue of staffing cited in the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) lawsuit against the state’s prison system, according to the Associated Press (AP).

In considering the motion by state lawyers, AP reports that U.S. District Judge David Proctor agreed with the state’s assertion that the DOJ’s accusations against Alabama’s prison system are exceedingly broad in scope.

The DOJ lawsuit against the state and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) alleges that the state’s prison system is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Among the issues cited in the suit are prisoner-on-prisoner violence, correctional staff partaking in excessive force, as well as unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

The federal judge, while agreeing with the state’s contention that the DOJ’s defining of the issue is overly broad, denied the state’s motion to dismiss the allegation surrounding “unsafe and unsanitary conditions and correctional staffing.”

AP reports that state lawyers attempted to dismiss the claims due to the state facing a separate court order in an additional lawsuit to increase the number of guards in the prison system. Regarding a lawsuit concerning prisoner mental health, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered that the state must hire additional staffing.

Proctor, in his ruling, stated that the mental health case does not hold a “preclusive effect” and said the DOJ’s allegation relating to understaffing is a “contributing factor” to issues facing the state’s prison system, according to AP.

The ruling states that the DOJ must provide further details surrounding the claims within 45 days and further mandates that it separate allegations by the facility in an amended complaint.

The ruling comes on the heels of Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) signing into law a $1.3 billion plan passed by the legislature to modernize the state’s prison system, which elected officials hope will resolve issues cited in the lawsuit.

UPDATE 5:10 p.m.:

In a response to Yellowhammer News, the office of Attorney General Steve Marshall applauded the ruling which stated that the DOJ’s allegations were a “shotgun pleading.”

“The Attorney General is pleased that the court disapproved of the Justice Department’s ‘shotgun pleading.’ Even the federal government has to provide adequate notice to a defendant of what it is alleging and what remedies it is seeking,” stated the attorney general’s office. “For all of the accusations that the state has been the cause of delays, DOJ’s repeated failure to provide clarity on these points is slowing down a resolution of this matter.”

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL