Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn and members of his team addressed the Joint Legislative Committee on Prisons Thursday about the chronic understaffing in Alabama’s prisons.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Prisons is chaired by State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville.
Dunn told the committee that he has been working with an outside consulting firm for six months on improving ADOC’s recruitment and retention of corrections officers. Dunn acknowledged that the hiring of more officers was crucial and said that higher pay and retention and recruitments bonuses would help in the goal.
The committee voted to support a plan to raise the corrections officers pay by five percent and to offer the bonuses that Dunn has requested.
The governor is requesting hiring 500 more corrections officers in her budget. That was part of the General Fund budget that passed the House last weeks.
Legislators have expressed doubts that that is even possible.
“I think the commissioner is anticipating that the new pay scale will up that number, but I think we all have doubts,” Ward said.
Dunn told the committee that ADOC just graduated a class of 62 new corrections officers. That is the largest class in years. Some classes have been as low as 24. Dunn said that they typically have seven classes graduate from the academy every 24 months.
Dunn said ADOC currently has 1,200 full-time officers, plus a number of retired state workers who help meet the state’s staffing needs.
A report by the U.S. Department of Justice accused Alabama prisons of an unacceptable level of violence, including rape and murder.
The DOJ’s two-and-a-half-year investigation found that violence, gangs, drugs, weapons, a culture of sexual abuse and contraband were all intolerably high in the prison and accused corrections officers of acceptance of the violence as normal.
A federal court order has found that Alabama needs well over 2,000 prison guards. The DOJ said that the prisons are chronically understaffed and overcrowded.
State Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, said Thursday that he visited one prison recently and though the staffing needs were 200 guards, they only had 95.
Dunn said that the new pay scale would allow a new hire with just a high school diploma to make $31,000 a year.
Persons with a two-year associates degree or a four-year degree would earn even more.
DOJ says that they have been unable to finish their report because ADOC has refused DOJ’s subpoenas for thousands of documents on alleged excessive force and sexual abuse by ADOC corrections officers on inmates.
Attorney General Steve Marshall is objecting to the subpoena arguing that DOJ has exceeded its authority and that ADOC does not have the resources to hand over the 68,000 documents including daily intelligence reports.
Currently, ADOC makes corrections officers undergo 12 weeks of academy training so that they are certified at the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training level. Dunn said that other states do not do that and proposed creating a less rigorous correctional security guard position with just six weeks of training.
“The vast majority of systems across the country, to include the Federal Bureau of Prisons, do not do a law enforcement certification,” Dunn said.
Ward said that ADOC should do everything possible to comply with Judge Thompson’s order, and that the Legislature was willing to put up whatever money was needed and to change regulations to comply.
Ward sponsored Senate Bill 303 to raise correction officers’ pay. That bill received a favorable report from the joint committee on Thursday.
ADOC shared the comprehensive “Recruiting and Retaining Correctional Officers” report, compiled by third-party consultant Warren Averett.
The ADOC contracted Warren Averett in 2017 to complete a thorough review of ADOC’s policies, practices and procedures related to recruiting and retaining correctional officers and to make recommendations for improvement.
ADOC said in a statement that it has been working closely with Warren Averett and additional third-party experts to implement recommendations for improving recruitment and retention within Alabama’s prison system.
With new strategies in place, the ADOC has seen significant progress, including the hiring of 47 new corrections officers in March 2019.
“The ADOC has been working diligently on the recommendations provided in the Warren Averett report,” said Dunn. “We are pleased to be able to share the contents of this report and are excited to announce that the current ADOC Academy class is the largest since 2015. With this momentum, recruitment efforts are projected to generate a significant increase than seen in years past.”
Dunn said that ADOC is working hard to comply with the federal court order and to present a plan to the DOJ to resolve their concerns.
“We recognize the magnitude and scope of the challenges our department faces, especially as the U.S. Department of Justice recently identified,” said Dunn. “We have been working tirelessly to implement actionable solutions to address these challenges – such as recruitment – but remain in a difficult position with limited resources that impacts the speed and intensity in which we address these systemic issues. With Governor Ivey leading the way, all stakeholders, including the state legislature and its leadership, the DOJ, and the advocacy community, must work together to form permanent and transformative solutions.”
DOJ gave the state 60 days to present a plan to address the problems found by their investigation or the federal government could sue the state for failing to comply with the Constitutional Amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishments.
Plaintiffs ask for panel of judges to reconsider ruling on Alabama voter ID law
Plaintiffs suing Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill alleging the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities on Monday asked a panel of judges to reconsider an appeals court decision that affirmed the law.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Monday filed a petition Monday asking that all of the judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider the July 21 decision by a panel of three judges that fell 2-1 in favor of the state’s voter ID law.
The 2011 law requires voters in Alabama to show a valid, government-issued photo ID to vote. The NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and several minority voters sued, arguing that lawmakers knowingly crafted the law to prevent Black people and other minorities, who are less likely to have such photo IDs, from voting.
The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in its July 21 opinion found that the burden of Alabama’s voter ID law is minimal, and does not“violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act.”
Merrill has argued that the state’s voter ID law is meant to deter in-person voting fraud and that the state makes available mobile photo ID units able to provide voters with the necessary IDs.
District Judge Darrin Gayles in his dissenting opinion wrote that voter fraud in Alabama is rare, and that “while there have been some limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent.”
Gayles wrote that Merrill presented evidence of just two instances of in-person voter fraud in Alabama’s history.
“Despite the lack of in-person voter fraud, Secretary Merrill claims Alabama enacted the Photo ID Law to combat voter fraud and to restore confidence in elections — a dubious position in light of the facts,” Gayles wrote.
Gayles noted that former State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, before his retirement in 2010, sponsored similar voter ID bills.
“During this time, Senator Dixon made repeated comments linking photo identification legislation to race, including ‘the fact you don’t have to show an ID is very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats’ and that voting without photo identification ‘benefits Black elected leaders, and that’s why they’re opposed to it,'” Gayles wrote in his dissenting opinion.
“It is clear from the statements of the legislators who enacted Alabama’s photo ID law that they passed it for the unconstitutional purpose of discriminating against voters of color,” said LDF senior counsel Natasha Merle in a statement Monday. “As long as this law is intact, Black and Latinx Alabamians will continue to be disproportionately excluded from the state’s electoral process.”
Attorneys in the filing Monday told the court that “roughly 118,000 Alabamians lack qualifying photo ID, and Black and Latinx voters are twice as likely to lack qualifying ID as compared to white voters. Given this evidence, a trial was required to determine whether HB19 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”
Jones: Trump executive orders are “more for show than actual help for the Americans people”
Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones had harsh words for recent executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in lieu of continuing to pursue a bipartisan legislative COVID relief package. Jones said that Trump’s executive orders extending coronavirus relief are “more for show than actual help for the American people.”
“While the President is attempting to give the appearance that he is leading the cavalry coming to the rescue of the American people, these executive orders are anything but that,” Jones said. “The executive order to extend the now-lapsed emergency unemployment assistance will cut benefits by $200 a week or more for Alabamians and asks states, whose budgets have already been burdened by the pandemic, to foot part of the bill. The payroll tax collection moratorium is a way for President Trump to follow through with his promise to defund Medicare and privatize social security by putting the solvency of these programs at risk while still leaving open the possibility that those taxes may need to be paid in a lump sum next year.”
“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy. We need to come to a bipartisan compromise that deals with the full slate of urgent issues facing our country: we need a national strategy for COVID testing and contact tracing, to extend federal eviction moratoriums, to provide much-needed funding for state and local governments, and to ensure schools have the resources they need to reopen safely — among so many other needs.”
Both parties wanted a fifth coronavirus aid package passed before Congress broke for August recess, but negotiations broke down between Democrats and the White House over the size of the aid package.
“It’s completely inexcusable that Mitch McConnell waited over two months after the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to begin negotiations on this relief package, knowing full well that many of the programs that Americans have relied on during this crisis would expire at the end of July,” Jones continued. “The failure to negotiate an adequate bipartisan deal speaks to a broader breakdown in leadership in Washington, and I strongly urge my colleagues to put partisanship aside to come together to pass a relief bill as soon as possible. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and each day we spend arguing over politics is another day that our institution fails the American people.”
Some Democrats have threatened to challenge the president’s executive actions in court. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Democrats would have a lot of explaining to do if they challenged the White House’s efforts to get enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans.
“We’ve cleared with the Office of Legal Counsel all these actions,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hardworking Americans that are out of a job because of COVID, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
The president’s executive actions would provide $400 in increased federal unemployment benefits, which is down $200 from the $600 enhancement that they were getting.
“We thought $400 was a fair compromise. We offered to continue to pay $600 while we negotiate, and the Democrats turned that down,” Mnuchin said.
The Democratic proposal that passed the House, the HEROES Act, would have added $3.4 trillion to the national debt.
Jones is trailing Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville in the race for U.S. Senate according to a poll released last week.
Brooks: Democratic relief proposals would make Americans more dependent on government
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, on Thursday said on social media that Democrats believe that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help them in the 2020 elections.
“Socialist Democrats want as many Americans as possible dependent on the government,” Brooks said. “They perceive that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help Democrats tremendously in the 2020 elections. The more Americans voting for a living rather than working for a living, the better the Socialist Democrats’ election chances.”
Fox Business Channel commentator Stuart Varney shared similar views to Brooks.
“The left doesn’t want you to work for your money, they want you to be dependent on a government handout which they control,” Varney said. “This is economic fantasy land, wealth confiscation, trashes the constitution. Money printing on a massive scale invites inflation. Socialism really is dangerous to your financial health.”
“You can see where the left is headed: tax the rich, print money, make us all dependent on the government,” said Varney. “They want to salvage political power from a government-ordered shutdown.”
In 1980, the entire national debt was just $903 billion. Since then, federal spending, much of it mandatory spending, has ballooned the size of government and the national debt. The debt has now grown to $26.6 trillion.
This year’s budget deficit is nearly triple what the whole debt was back then and Congress is debating another coronavirus aid package that would be paid by deficit spending.
One issue that Congress has been grappling with is how much money should the government give to people impacted by the coronavirus crisis.
Conservatives are concerned that borrowing more money for more and more aid will grow the debt while discouraging people from working.
“A possible consequence of a poorly targeted, expansive government stimulus package?” said Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements Rachel Greszler. “If you continue excessively high payments, then you end up just trading a global health pandemic for a fiscal crisis.”
“It’s neither fair nor helpful to tantalize unemployed workers with unemployment benefits equal to 150% or 200% of their usual earnings, because long-term unemployment leads to lower incomes and opportunities, as well as a decline in physical and mental health,” Greszler explained. “Policymakers should be focused on helping Americans get safely back to work, including granting new flexibilities to allow workplaces to adjust to the conditions of COVID-19.”
“Humans are hard-wired to be productive,” Greszler concluded. “They will be far better off if policymakers focus on enabling work opportunities—such as removing barriers to working, trading, innovating, and investing—than on incentivizing unemployment.”
Brooks is in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. He has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election. Brooks previously served in the Alabama House of Representatives, the Madison County Commission and as a prosecutor.
Chamber of Commerce stresses need for Congress to pass coronavirus aid
The executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Neil Bradley, on Saturday expressed concerns that Congress still needs to pass a coronavirus aid package, even though President Donald Trump did issue executive orders on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“While well-intentioned, today’s Executive Orders are no substitute for Congressional action,” Bradley said. “For schools to get the resources to safely reopen, for small businesses to receive aid to stay afloat, to remove the threat of frivolous lawsuits, for families and our economy to get the support this moment requires, Congress must act. There is no alternative to Congress legislating and no excuse for their inaction.”
Both Republicans and Democrats had wanted to pass an economic aid deal, but the two sides wildly disagreed on the size of the aid bill and what aid should be given. Republicans favored a $1 trillion aid bill, while House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion package. The two sides failed to come to any compromise during a late Thursday night meeting at the White House.
On Saturday, President Trump responded by signing executive orders to extend unemployment benefits, suspend payroll taxes and offer federal eviction and student loan relief. The president announced the executive actions from his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was spending the weekend.
Critics question the constitutionality of the president’s unilateral actions and if the relief goes far enough.
The unemployed will continue to get enhanced compensation of an additional $400 a week. This is down from the $600 boost they had been receiving under the CARES Act, which expired Saturday. Also gone is the Small Business Administration loan program: the Payroll Protection Program. The PPP was very popular with the business community.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy.