Justice Dept. files lawsuit against State of AL for unconstitutional conditions in State’s prisons for men

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday filed suit against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections.  The complaint alleges that the conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Constitution because Alabama fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff. 

“The United States Constitution requires Alabama to make sure that its prisons are safe and humane,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice conducted a thorough investigation of Alabama’s prisons for men and determined that Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.  The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries.  The Department of Justice looks forward to proving its case in an Alabama federal courtroom.”

 “Our office is committed to ensuring that all citizens’ constitutional rights are respected” stated Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama William R. Chambers, Jr. “We will continue to work tirelessly to correct the constitutional deficiencies identified by our investigation into the state prison system.”

“­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The results of the investigation into safety and excessive force issues within Alabama’s prisons are distressing and continue to require real and immediate attention,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Louis V. Franklin, Sr. “We hope the filing of this complaint conveys the Department’s continued commitment to ensuring that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that one of the primary responsibilities of government is to keep our citizens safe,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard W. Moore. “That responsibility extends to citizens incarcerated within Alabama prisons.  Our investigation has demonstrated that constitutionally required standards have not been met in Alabama prisons and this must be corrected.  I am disappointed that the efforts of both Alabama officials and DOJ officials to find appropriate solutions have not resulted in a mutually agreed upon resolution.  Our oath as public officials now requires us to follow the Constitution and to pursue justice in the courts.”

The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation into allegations of constitutional violations within Alabama’s prisons for men conducted by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama.  As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the state with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions, and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them in Notice Reports issued on April 2, 2019 and July 23, 2020.  CRIPA authorizes the department to act when it has reasonable cause to believe there is a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to correctional facilities operated by or on behalf of state or local government.  For over 20 months the department has engaged in negotiations with the State without achieving a settlement that would correct the deficiencies identified by the department’s investigation. 

 Today’s lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to address deficient conditions identified by the department’s investigation.  The complaint contains allegations of unconstitutional conditions of confinement, which must be proven in federal court.  The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages. 

This investigation was conducted by attorneys with the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama.  Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department by phone at 877-419-2366 or by email at USAALN.CivilRights@usa.doj.gov.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.