Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – The Justice Department has determined that Alabama’s prisons are violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse and by housing them in unsafe and overcrowded facilities, according to a scathing report Wednesday that described the problems as “severe” and “systemic.”
The federal government also is putting the state on notice that it may sue if officials there do not make improvements soon.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who leads the department’s civil rights division. “The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns.”
The report detailed a litany of problems in the state’s 13 prisons for men, which together house roughly 16,000 inmates. Those include an overcrowding rate that the Justice Department says ranks among the highest in the nation and a “crisis level” staffing shortage.
In a single week in September 2017, the report found, two inmates stood guard at the doors of a dormitory in one facility while two others repeatedly stabbed a prisoner who eventually bled to death; an inmate at another facility was stabbed and had to be evacuated by helicopters; and a prisoner in a dorm reserved for inmates with good behavior was woken from sleep when two inmates attacked him with a sock filled with metal locks.
The report is only the latest blow to the troubled Alabama prison system, which has come under criticism for violence, overcrowding and a high suicide rate. A federal judge in 2017 ruled that the state has provided “horrendously inadequate” care to mentally ill inmates.
The findings are the result of an investigation opened in 2016.
Alabama has been trying to address crowding through sentencing reform, but the threat of a federal lawsuit will force the state to address other issues such as sexual assaults in prisons, said Republican state Senator Cam Ward, who chairs a legislative prison oversight committee.
“We don’t have much of a choice. Something has got to happen,” Mr. Ward said.
The Founding Fathers framed much of the United States on Judeo-Christian values, so it should be no surprise that prisons have roots in religion. But is modern imprisonment biblical?