House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said the state is creating an emergency task force to address the U.S. Department of Justice’s report alleging violence and a callous acceptance of prisoner-on-prisoner violence by the Alabama Department of Corrections.
The U.S. Department of Justice is threatening to sue the state if it does not address the findings in the report.
The DOJ is suggesting that how Alabama treats its prisoners may constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishments.
“This Legislature recognizes that Alabama’s correctional system is experiencing critical and fundamental issues, and we are committed to finding the solutions necessary to fix them,” McCutcheon said. “The problem within the correctional system did not occur overnight, and they cannot be resolved overnight, but we are determined to address them. Like any major undertaking, tackling this issue will be a combined effort between the governor’s office, the legislature, and the attorney general’s office.”
“Steps have already been taken to comply with the federal court orders issued in pending cases over mental health services in prisons, and we will faithfully continue those efforts,” McCutcheon added referring to a federal court case brought by the ACLU on behalf of inmates.
“We are also working to impanel an emergency task force of legislators, members of the executive and judicial branches, corrections professionals, and other stakeholders,” McCutcheon added. “This task force will be responsible for finding both short and long term solutions to the facility needs, staffing shortages, and other infrastructure breakdowns within the prison system. As speaker, I know that the Alabama House of Representatives stands ready to do its part.”
McCutcheon told reporters they have met with representatives from the Department of Justice about the prison conditions.
The speaker said that the task force will be tasked with figuring out what do we need to fix this and go forward.
The speaker was asked if he was surprised by the report.
“No, I am still reading the report, but based on my career in law enforcement I am not surprised. There are parts of the report that yes are in some ways surprising. We had some indications, when we were talking about the bond issue about the safety inside the facility.
“I come from a law enforcement background,” McCutcheon said. “When you are dealing with violent type individuals and there are shortages” in corrections officers there are going to be problems with security.
The 2020 general fund budget request by Gov. Kay Ivey includes $30 million for hiring 500 more prison guards.
“This needs to be a priority,” McCutcheon said.
Reporters asked if Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn should be fired.
“No, I think Commissioner Dunn is doing a great job,” McCutcheon said. The Department of Justice representatives praised him. Ultimately, that is the decision of the governor. “That is beyond my pay grade.”
Reporters asked if the state should construct new prisons.
“I think it needs to be in the discussion,” McCutcheon said. “Some of our facilities were built back in the 30s. Things like line of sight,” are problems. “It becomes a safety issue.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: We talked with Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) yesterdays and he said that the state is going to have to pick up funding 20 percent of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) starting in 2021 and that will cost $120 million a year. Now there is the problem of addressing the prison report. Is it safe to say that we are going to need $200 million more in the general fund next year?
“Not at this point,” McCutcheon said. “It would be premature,” of me to put out a number like that.
The report alleges: “Our experts’ on site interviews of captains and lieutenants revealed that many ADOC staff appear to accept the high level of violence and sexual abuse in ADOC as a normal course of business, including acquiescence to the idea that prisoners will be subjected to sexual abuse as a way to pay debts accrued to other prisoners.”
Prisoners reported being raped. Prisoners reported being sexually abused because they reported sexual abuse.
The Alabama Political Reporter exposed much of the culture of corrupt prison guards, violent gangs, violence, drug and cell phone smuggling in our exclusive investigative report three years ago.
President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice reported their concerns about conditions in the Alabama Corrections system to address the issues to Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration.
Bentley presented an ambitious plan to build four mega prisons in 2016. That plan failed to gain support in the legislature and also stalled in 2017. Frustrated with Alabama’s inability to act, Attorney General Loretta Lynch order the DOJ investigation into Alabama’s prison system in the closing days of the Obama administration. AG Jeff Sessions oversaw much of the investigation. DOJ is threatening to sue the state if it does not come up with a plan in the next sixty days.