MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it believes Alabama’s prisons for men are unconstitutional because inmates are subjected to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.
The Justice Department announced the finding in a news release, the second time it has accused the state prison system of housing male inmates in unconstitutional conditions.
The department said Thursday that it concluded there is reasonable cause to believe that prisoners are subjected to excessive force.
“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of using excessive force against prisoners in Alabama’s prisons for men,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office was expected to issue a response later Thursday.
Dreiband said the Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the department’s concerns.
“The results of the investigation into excessive force issues within Alabama’s prisons is distressing and continues to require real and immediate attention,” said Louis Franklin, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.
It is the second time in less than 18 months that federal officials have accused Alabama of violating the constitutional rights of inmates. In the spring of 2019, the department said male inmates face excessive inmate-on-inmate violence and sexual abuse in facilities that are not sanitary, safe, or secure. The department is in negotiations with the state in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Attorney General Steve Marshall responded saying the state was ambushed by the report Thursday.
“Though the State has been diligently working towards a settlement agreement with the DOJ based on its previous findings, we were ambushed with today’s report, issued in the form of a public press release only moments after we received it,” Marshall said. “To be clear, the State of Alabama has never denied the challenges that the Alabama Department of Corrections is facing. As evidence of the seriousness with which we have taken the DOJ’s allegations, the State is undertaking efforts to construct three new men’s facilities that we believe—and the DOJ has conceded—will have a significant positive impact on many of the areas of concern that the DOJ has identified.
“At the same time, I have made it absolutely clear from the beginning that the State will not, under any circumstances, enter into a consent decree with the federal government to avoid a lawsuit. On November 7, 2018, then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the use of civil consent decrees in a DOJ memorandum, acknowledging the sovereignty of state governments and urging special caution before using this bludgeon to settle litigation against the states. I share General Sessions’ concerns with consent decrees and will not submit our state to judicial oversight of our prisons, with the DOJ as the hall monitor, that will last well beyond my tenure as Attorney General—and indeed, if history is any indication, could last well beyond my lifetime.
“Along with the release of its newest findings today, DOJ officials also communicated to my Office that the State has 49 days to agree upon the terms of a consent decree. Presumably, if we do not, the federal government will file suit. My response to that is simple: the State of Alabama has worked, and will continue to work, both to improve our prison facilities to meet the standards of the U.S. Constitution and to negotiate with the federal government in good faith. But Alabama will not be bullied into a perpetual consent decree to govern our prison system, nor will we be pressured to reach such an agreement with federal bureaucrats, conspicuously, fifty-three days before a presidential election.
“In short, a consent decree is unacceptable and nonnegotiable. The State of Alabama shall retain her sovereignty.”