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Alabama Prisons Have Problems —Big Problems

Justice Department issues report, gives state 49 days to correct issues
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 3, 2019 12:55 PM CDT
In this June 18, 2015, file photo, prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.   (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
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(Newser) – The Justice Department issued a scathing report on Alabama's prisons on Wednesday, saying the state is violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse and by housing them in unsafe and overcrowded facilities. The department gave Alabama 49 days to correct the violations, or possibly face another federal lawsuit, the AP reports. "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. Gov. Kay Ivey responded with a promise to work together on "an Alabama solution."

The report, which stems from an investigation opened in 2016 at the end of the Obama administration, condemns virtually every aspect of prison operations, chronicling a "broken system" beset by poor staff training; an inability to prevent the flow of drugs and weapons from entering; "and a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive." It lays out in stark detail a culture of violence across the state's 13 prisons for men, which together house roughly 16,000 inmates in conditions that are among the nation's most overcrowded. It describes inmates brutally attacking each other with knives and other weapons, and a management system that undercounts the number of homicides and fails to protect prisoners even when there's been warning of a problem. Staffing shortages, it says, are at a "crisis level." (See much more from the report, including shocking details on rapes and killings at the prisons, here.)


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