Fmr U.S. Atty Jay Town notes legislature’s lack of action on prison Eighth Amendment violations; Says remedies to avert DOJ action ‘a little too late now’
Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey signed leases for two of the three facilities for new prison construction as part of an effort to address a lawsuit from the Department of Justice that accused the state of Alabama of violating the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution’s “cruel and unusual punishment” provision. That, along with other actions taken by the state government, has policymakers hopeful the Alabama Department of Corrections can avoid a worst-case scenario from the DOJ.
Former U.S. Attorney Jay Town, who served in the Trump Justice Department as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, led the investigation that determined the state had violated the Eighth Amendment.
During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Town did not place all the blame on any elected officials currently serving. He argued the problem goes back decades for Alabama. However, he did note the lack of action over the past several years by the Alabama Legislature. Town said at this point that it was “a little too late” to enact a remedy that would absolve the state from the situation requiring federal government action.
“I will tell you this, too — I’m unaware of any legislation that was put forward at any time in the last few years when we’ve been talking about this –, and this litigation really goes back a couple of years before April 2, 2019, when we dropped the investigation on the state,” he outlined. “And I don’t remember any legislation where here’s for a bond issue, for instance. So, it is a little too late now. The DOJ Civil Rights Division is pretty much undefeated in these types of matters. It just a matter of mitigating it at this point if you’re the state of Alabama to a point where it is as painless as possible.”
Town acknowledged the difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic in acting toward a solution but maintained the problem is so complex that it was difficult to know exactly where to start.
“It is like if you would if you walked into a hoarder’s garage,” Town explained. “There’s not a reasonable place to start cleaning that out. You just have to pick a corner and go, and that is kind of where we are with our prison system in the state of Alabama. I mean, you just can’t start letting people out. I mean, you can, but I’m against that. I spent a lot of time putting those people in prison when I was in the DA’s office in Madison County. And if you’re in prison in Alabama — I mean, it is really hard to send somebody to prison. It’s really hard in Alabama. If it is a non-violent crime, you’ve got to have six or seven prior felonies, or you were on probation at the time, or you have done something violent. It’s really hard to go to prison in the state of Alabama, so if you’re there, you’ve really got a body of work. You can’t just let people out. But you can’t have people in prison that are unsafe.”
“It is a really difficult issue,” he continued. “And the solution is going to be money. It’s going to be more guards and better facilities in making these prisons safe. I get why people don’t want to spend money on new prisons because they would rather spend that money on new schools — totally reasonable argument. But I also believe people believe in the Constitution, and if they understand the Eighth Amendment, which is sort of an obscure amendment when it comes to crime and punishment — if they understood it, I think they would agree we can do better in the state.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.