Who: Freedom fighters inside Alabama prisons, Alabama women and children with incarcerated loved ones, Local and National Prison Slavery Abolition Organizations What: “Alabama to DC: End Prison Slavery” Rally and press conference with speeches from inside, banners, personal stories, music When: Friday, September 20, 2019, 4 PM to 6 PM Where: Pershing Park, corner of 14th St NW & Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC
Washington DC — On September 20, Unheard Voices OTCJ, along with DC Abolition Coalition and allies will gather from 4 PM to 6 PM with a delegation of women and children from Alabama who have been personally impacted by the Alabama DOC to confront the Department of Justice for their inaction after finding ongoing, egregious 8th amendment violations in Alabama prisons earlier this year. As one voice from the inside declares, “the prisons in Alabama are functioning in the same exact manner. Men are being murdered, assaulted, raped, overdosing and being denied mental and medical care constantly. These conditions have become frequent and ADOC is failing to report the many incidents that take place in order to gain favor in the eyes of the Federal agencies involved in investigating ADOC and to gain favor with you, the public.”
We demand that the DOJ follow through on their commitment to file suit against the Alabama prison system! We demand that U.S. Attorney General William Barr uphold his oath of office. We demand #NoNewPrisons!
We know that Alabama politicians and Alabama Attorney General Jay Town are not going to protect the rights of incarcerated individuals and hold their own accountable and prosecute the civil rights violations of prisoners and criminal activities of the ADOC. We know that their priority is only building three new private prisons which will exacerbate the human rights abuses and expand prison slavery in Alabama.
Those gathered at this family-friendly event will amplify the cry heard from behind the walls: “We are MEN!” These words are an echo of those spoken on the first day of the 1971 Attica Rebellion — a reminder of our past, a call to action, and an insistence on the humanity of incarcerated individuals whose constitutional rights require equal protection and enforcement by the Department of Justice.
As violence continues to plague the state’s prisons, new data from the Alabama Department of Corrections shows that the department is rapidly erasing much-needed reductions in the prison population. The prison population declined 3.6 percent last year, but that progress has been almost completely reversed in the first half of this fiscal year as the population rose 3.3 percent (an increase of 890 people) between last October and this April.
Admissions to ADOC custody for the current fiscal year are 9.5 percent higher (8332 people) than the same time last year (7607). And while admissions are climbing, releases have plummeted to 11.4 percent fewer so far this year (7704) than the same time last year (8698).
This dramatic rise in Alabama’s prison population coincides with changes in parole policy last fall. Since October, 37.2 percent fewer people have been paroled (1482 people) than were paroled by the same time last year (2360).
The rise in admissions and increasing limits on parole mean Alabama will experience a growth in the prison population that will add new challenges to the existing crisis in conditions in the state’s prisons. The data also undermines prison officials’ assertions that sentencing reforms are lowering the incarcerated population and easing overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
Alabama’s extraordinary prison homicide rate has already reached new crisis levels this year, with eight homicides in the first six months of 2019. Alabama had 10 homicides in 2018; 11 in 2017; 3 in 2016; and 8 in 2015.
The unprecedented level of violence, including sexual and lethal violence, that has plagued the state’s prisons for the last five years was the subject of a scathing findings letter issued by the Department of Justice this spring, and it has only gotten worse.
Since the Justice Department report was released on April 2, two incarcerated people have been killed in medium-security facilities. Joseph Holloway was serving a 40-year sentence for robbery when he was stabbed to death on June 5, 2019, at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. Jeremy Bailey was serving a 7-year sentence for a drug conviction when he was stabbed to death 10 days later at Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore.
Violence at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville has also continued unchecked. During Memorial Day weekend, unconfiscated weapons and drugs, combined with staff failure to regulate prisoner movement, resulted in the stabbing of four men by a single armed and intoxicated incarcerated man. One of the victims was classified as minimum-out custody, had been in prison less than three months, and had repeatedly sought protection, notifying officials in the days before he was attacked that he was at risk in the housing unit and feared for his life.
One prisoner had been dead for so long that when he was discovered lying face down, his face was flattened. Another was tied up and tortured for two days while no one noticed. Bloody inmates screamed for help from cells whose doors did not lock.
Those were some of the gruesome details in a 56-page report on the Alabama prison system that was issued by the Justice Department on Wednesday. The report, one of the first major civil rights investigations by the department to be released under President Trump, uncovered shocking conditions in the state’s massively overcrowded and understaffed facilities.
Prisoners in the Alabama system endured some of the highest rates of homicide and rape in the country, the Justice Department found, and officials showed a “flagrant disregard” for their right to be free from excessive and cruel punishment. The investigation began in the waning days of the Obama administration and continued for more than two years after Mr. Trump took office.
The department notified the prison system that it could sue in 49 days “if State officials have not satisfactorily addressed our concerns.”
Alabama is not alone in having troubled, violent prisons. But the state has one of the country’s highest incarceration rates and its correctional system is notoriously antiquated, dangerous and short-staffed. The major prisons are at 182 percent of their capacity, the report found, contraband is rampant and prisoners sleep in dorms they are not assigned to in order to escape violence.
“The violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision,” the report said, noting that some facilities had fewer than 20 percent of their allotted positions filled. It also cited the use of solitary confinement as a protective measure for vulnerable inmates, and “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.”
State officials said the report addressed issues that Alabama was already aware of and working to fix.
“For more than two years, the D.O.J. pursued an investigation of issues that have been the subject of ongoing litigation and the target of significant reforms by the state,” a statement from the office of Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with D.O.J. 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.”
But the report called the state “deliberately indifferent” to the risks prisoners face, and said, “It has failed to correct known systemic deficiencies that contribute to the violence.” Legislative efforts to reduce overcrowding through measures such as reducing sentences were not made retroactive and have had “minimal effect,” the report said.
Alabama’s prisons have for years been the subject of civil rights litigation by the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center, nonprofit legal advocacy groups based in Montgomery. Maria Morris, the lead lawyer for the center’s lawsuit, also disputed the assertion that the problems were being fixed.
“They’re not fixing them,” Ms. Morris said. “They’re giving a lot of lip service to the need to fix them, but the lip service always comes back to we just need a billion dollars to build new prisons and, as the Department of Justice found, that’s not going to solve the problem.”
Alabama inmates continue to die in high numbers. There have been 15 suicides in the past 15 months, and the homicide rate vastly exceeds the national average for prisons.
The department is still investigating excessive force and sexual abuse by prison staff members, an investigation that former federal prosecutors say could lead to criminal indictments.
[Our reporter went inside St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Ala. He found it was “virtually ungoverned” and the inmates were armed.]
Investigators visited four prisons and interviewed more than 270 prisoners. To “provide a window into a broken system,” the report detailed a single week’s worth of injuries and attacks, including days that saw multiple incidents including stabbings, a sleeping man attacked with socks filled with metal locks and another man being forced to perform oral sex on two men at knife point.
The department also concluded that the system does not provide “safe and sanitary” living conditions. Open sewage ran by the pathway that government lawyers used to access one facility, which the state closed soon after the visit. One investigator grew ill from the toxic fumes of cleaning fluids while inspecting the kitchen, the report said.
The report said the state failed to track violent deaths or adequately investigate sex abuse. At least three homicide victims — including one who was stabbed and another who was beaten — were classified as having died from natural causes, the report said. The report listed nine killings in which the victims had been previously attacked or officials had received other warnings that they were in danger.
Sexual assaults occur in “dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night,” the report said. Prisons must screen inmates and separate sexually abusive prisoners from those at risk of sexual abuse, particularly gay and transgender people; the report said Alabama does not do so.
Inmates are raped to pay off debts, and one mother told the Justice Department that a prisoner had texted her to say he would “chop her son into pieces and rape him if she did not send him $800,” the report said.
Last month, Governor Ivey warned of “horrendous conditions” in the prisons and an impending federal intervention in her State of the State speech.
Ms. Ivey said the department had increased the prison budget in recent years, given raises to corrections officers and requested $31 million to hire 500 more correctional officers and increase pay in the coming fiscal year.
But Mac McArthur, the executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, which includes state corrections workers, said attrition was still outpacing recruitment, in part because starting salaries were still below $30,000 a year for some officers, and in part because the job was so dangerous.
The federal investigation was opened during the Obama administration, after the lawsuits over prison abuses and published accounts of endemic brutality, violence and torture. The investigation continued under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had also served as a longtime senator from Alabama.
The report included a series of measures necessary to remedy the constitutional and other violations that regularly occur in the Alabama prison system, including additional screening for those entering the prisons, moving low-risk inmates, hiring 500 additional corrections officers and overhauling disciplinary processes around violence and sexual assault.
Similar federal civil rights investigations have resulted in consent decrees — court-approved deals that include a road map of changes that institutions such as police departments and state correction departments must adhere to in order to avoid being sued.
But in a break with past practice, Mr. Sessions placed three key restrictions on consent decrees. He said that a top political appointee must sign off on any deal. Department lawyers must show proof of violations that go beyond unconstitutional behavior. And the deals must have a sunset date, meaning they can expire before violations have been remedied. The current attorney general, William P. Barr, has not changed Mr. Sessions’s policy.
Mr. Sessions said that the consent decrees interfered with states’ rights, a position echoed by Ms. Ivey in her statement insisting on an “Alabama solution.”
But Vanita Gupta, a head of the civil rights division in the Obama administration and one of the officials who opened the investigation, said that given the pervasive problems and the history of inaction, “nothing short of a comprehensive consent decree will adequately address these constitutional violations.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on whether it would seek a consent decree.
Ms. Ivey is hardly the first governor to reckon with the prison system and its decrepit conditions. Her immediate predecessor, Robert Bentley, pushed a plan for $800 million in bonds to build four new prisons and to close some existing facilities.
But governors have only so much influence in Alabama, and the Legislature balked, especially as a scandal left Mr. Bentley weakened. This year, Ms. Ivey proposed a similar plan for new prisons that state officials hoped would be ready by 2022.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s plan to improve correctional and mental health staffing in state prisons is vague and inadequate, attorneys for inmates told a federal judge last week.
The attorneys for inmates criticized the state’s proposal submitted to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.
“Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and Associate Commissioner Ruth Naglich appear not to recognize that they have been found to be running a correctional system that provides horrendously inadequate mental health care,” wrote Maria Morris, an attorney representing the inmates.
Thompson ordered Alabama to overhaul conditions in June after finding that psychiatric care of state inmates is so “horrendously inadequate” that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. One of the inmates committed suicide days after testifying in federal court about his treatment in prison.
Thompson ordered the state to submit a plan to address shortages of correctional and mental health staff.
The Department of Corrections told the judge in a filing this month that it was increasing staff and conducting a comprehensive analysis to determine security staffing needs, and had begun some of those steps before Thompson’s ruling.
Inmates’ attorneys argued the state should have deadlines for increasing staff and benchmarks for caseloads or the plan “will remain nothing more than words.”
Thompson scheduled an Oct. 30 hearing on plaintiffs’ request for additional information about the state’s plan.
Alabama’s criminal justice system is in crisis. Mass incarceration, severe prison overcrowding, budget-busting costs and unfair sentencing have created conditions and practices that threaten the state’s resources and basic human rights. Alabama’s criminal justice system has marginalized thousands of residents and devastated many poor and minority communities while failing to improve public safety in any appreciable way. Many criminal justice policies have contributed to endemic hopelessness and dysfunctional and criminal behavior and have proven to be very ineffective.
The costs of many criminal justice policies have additionally created a fiscal crisis. Education spending and state planning and development have been undermined by out-ofcontrol prison costs and financial demands generated by sentencing policies and misguided practices.
These problems have been fostered by a lack of information and critical analysis and shielded by a legal and political culture that is fearful of sensible reform unless it appears “tough on crime.” This report provides a critical assessment of many criminal justice issues in the hope that more informed debate, dialogue and decision-making can take place in Alabama.
This report addresses sentencing, probation, prison conditions and parole in Alabama. Alabama’s sentencing laws, ineffective use of probation, unregulated and politicized parole procedures and an underfunded prison system have conspired to create one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The consequences are devastating for poor people and people of color as well as Alabama’s economic, social and political health. Alabama’s political and legal culture allows politicians to use prisons and punishment to manage social and health care problems. This ill-advised approach has resulted in record deficits and a fiscal crisis that creates both a serious threat to public welfare and an opportunity for significant reform.
A federal court ruled yesterday that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care to people in state prisons, finding that mental health services are “horrendously inadequate” and have led to a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among incarcerated people.
In a 302-page opinion, the court detailed “serious systemic deficiencies,” including the failure to identify prisoners with serious mental health needs and inadequate treatment for suicidal prisoners. It found that Alabama prisons discipline mentally ill prisoners for the symptoms of their illnesses and segregate them for prolonged periods. Rather than providing effective treatment, Alabama prisons are “warehousing” the mentally ill, the court wrote.
Evidence presented during a two-month trial that ended in February demonstrated that the state has shown “deliberate indifference” to the unconstitutional conditions in state prisons. “Officials admitted on the stand that they have done little to nothing to fix problems on the ground, despite their knowledge that those problems may be putting lives at risk,” the court found.
The court further found that “staffing shortages, combined with persistent and significant overcrowding, contribute to serious systemic deficiencies in the delivery of mental-health care.” Alabama is an outlier in its refusal to enact meaningful sentencing reforms to address its prison overcrowding crisis, and so the state’s prisons continue to hold double (190 percent) their design capacity and have the highest inmate-to-officer ratio in the country.
During the trial, Jamie Wallace testified about the Department of Corrections’s failure to provide him with treatment, telling the court he received only minimal attention from mental health staff even when he was on suicide watch. Less than a month after he testified, Mr. Wallace died by suicide, alone and unmonitored in his prison cell. The court wrote that Mr. Wallace’s case “is powerful evidence of the real, concrete and terribly permanent harms that woefully inadequate mental-health care inflicts on mentally ill prisoners in Alabama.”
The court ordered the parties to discuss a remedy, emphasizing that “given the severity and urgency of the need for mental-health care explained in this opinion, the proposed relief must be both immediate and long term.”
The ruling caps the second of three phases of a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, and the law firms Baker Donelson, and Zarzaur Mujumdar & Debrosse.
“For far too long, Alabama prisons have been little more than warehouses where many people struggling with mental illness have been hidden away and abandoned by the state,” said Lisa Borden, an attorney with Baker Donelson. “Once locked behind prison walls, in deplorable conditions with little or no treatment, any hope for improvement or recovery was lost, and many became more profoundly ill. We look forward to now having the opportunity for our clients to receive real treatment for their illnesses, and to seeing them afforded the basic dignity to which any human being is entitled.”
The lack of mental health care in Alabama’s prison system is representative of broader systemic failures that subject inmates to unconstitutional conditions. EJI’s federal class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at St. Clair Correctional Facility challenges the corrections department’s failure to remedy violent conditions there, and violence, abuses, and poor conditions throughout the state prison system prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.