Alabama’s Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn believes the department’s new strategic plan is an essential part of moving the beleaguered prison system out of its dark past and into the future.
“A strategic plan in my judgment — given my Air force experience — is absolutely critical to pulling an institution together,” Dunn said in an interview with the Alabama Political Reporter.
Nearly two years in the making, the detailed ADOC Strategic Plan for 2019-2022 is the first of its kind in Dunn’s estimation.
“It sets a clear mission, and a clear direction based on our values of professionalism, integrity and accountability,” Dunn said.
The plan, as Dunn explained, focuses on four areas: staffing, infrastructure, programming and culture.
“For too many years in the state, corrections were just all about providing some level of security, and some people have said it was even more akin to warehousing than it was actual corrections,” Dunn said. “Our mission is to be professional corrections officers who provide safe, secure and humane incarceration — that’s our job. But it must be safe, secure and humane.”
For nearly 40 years, the state’s prisons have been places where people convicted of state crimes have languished in near barbaric conditions. Recent rulings from the federal bench and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice have exposed the many horrors that befall those who are imprisoned by the state. Dunn acknowledges the problems that have occurred on his watch but has also been proactive in addressing the systemic culture of decades-old neglect.
Still, some lawmakers are reluctant to believe that conditions are as dire as federal reports have made evident. Dunn knows that area and believes the DOJ findings are helping to push needed reforms.
“The DOJ report brought attention and light to this situation in a way we haven’t been able to do in the past,” Dunn said.
Dunn said he presented the strategic plan to DOJ, and it has received a positive reception.
“The point I’m trying to make is we’re not waiting on anybody,” Dunn said. “We’re moving out on this, and we’re looking for folks to join us and to help us. We think the DOJ wants to do the same thing.”
Dunn believes Gov. Kay Ivey has given “clear commander guidance,” and that he and his team are working diligently to address not only the present needs but also offer a way forward.
Beyond the mere necessity of hiring personnel, improving infrastructure, offering inmate-centric programs and ensuring a professional culture among correctional officers is to begin the incarceration process with a goal of rehabilitation.
According to Dunn, nearly 95 percent of those inmates currently in state prisons will eventually be released back into society. “So then the question goes. Where do you start? What do you do?”
Dunn said the key lies in evidence-based practices.
The National Institute of Correction says evidence-based practice implies that “1) there is a definable outcome(s); 2) it is measurable; and 3) it is defined according to practical realities (recidivism, victim satisfaction, etc.).”
“The ability to apply evidence-based programs offers our inmates the treatment they need, if they need treatment, the education they need, if they need education and the vocational-skills training they need, if they need that, so that when they leave … they will return to society as law-abiding citizens.”
The first goal of the plan is to adequately staff state correctional facilities with high-quality professionals working in the security, medical and other non-security areas.
This portion of the plan focuses on ways to recruit, retain and grow the ADOC workforce through better compensation and improved workplace conditions.
During the recent Legislative Session, lawmakers approved an increase in salaries for correctional officers. HB468 sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, provides a two-step pay raise for individual employees of the Alabama Department of Corrections and expands the incentive program to include bonuses for new training achievements.
Over a year ago, ADOC commissioned a staffing study to determine personnel requirements.
“They basically came back and said that we need somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 more correctional officers to staff our facilities,” Dunn said. “And so, that report was then given to the court, and the court adopted in effect our staffing study to establish the requirement.”
ADOC is now in the process of streamlining hiring as well as creating a new classification for correctional officers that will lead to better recruitment.
“We’ve created a new entry-level position. It’s called the basic correctional officer,” Dunn said. “Before, you would enter the department as a correctional officer trainee and then go to the academy. Instead of trying to change that whole system, we just backed up, and we said we’ll bring you in as a basic correctional officer and will give you six weeks of training, which incidentally is more training than the Bureau of Prisons in a majority of other states. And then you can go into the facility and start working.”
Dunn said he understands the challenges but believes that by having a concrete plan with clear milestones, ADOC will achieve its goals.
“The DOJ focuses on the impact on the inmates and that is certainly where the Constitutional issues reside,” Dunn said. “But I am equally focused on the environment my staff is working in. No one has a problem with the statement that the conditions of where you work matter to how much you enjoy your job and how well you do at your job.”
Ivey’s prison infrastructure plan calls for three new regional facilities, one of which will have additional space for centralized health and mental health care facilities for special needs populations. Each new facility will also include space for educational and vocational training programs.
Under the current system, Alabama’s correctional operations are spread throughout the state. Under Ivey’s plan, they will be centralized, allowing for enhanced security through updated structures and the implementation of current technology resources.
“Alabama’s prisons were built as job-creators,” Dunn said.
He said it’s time to move beyond the politics of where prisons are located toward what is best for inmates, correctional officers and the state.
The third leg of ADOC’s strategic plan is to improve the delivery of research and evidence-based rehabilitative programs for inmates.
“We don’t just educate them for the sake of educating them. We educate them so that they can rehabilitate themselves and be productive citizens,” Dunn said. “We don’t give them drug treatment just because we’re empathetic — we are — but the goal is to get them clean, so they can manage their life and get out, and then we don’t teach them a trade just to teach them a trade.”
This area of the plan will rely heavily on the recently published Male Inmate Risk Reduction Plan and Women’s Services Strategic Plan, which details a strategy that will create an environment supportive of positive offender change and rehabilitation.
ADOC is currently piloting a similar program for male inmates.
“Once we have determined that that pilot for the males is working and working the way we want it to, we’ll begin to replicate it around the state,” Dunn said.”With the idea of when we walk into the new facility, we’re just taking that with us when we get inside.”
The plan calls for improving the ADOC operating culture through the development and implementation of a strategic communication plan, the continued expansion of a holistic leadership development program and added staff wellness policies, procedures, programs and infrastructure.
“Your culture is those shared beliefs and values and behaviors in an institution,” Dunn said. “There are some very rich, interesting things about DOC culture. It’s not unlike military culture.”
But Dunn admits there are some areas where a toxic culture has taken root.
“Admittedly, and the DOJ report addresses this; we’ve got some toxic areas in our system that affect and negatively impact our culture,” Dunn said. “What we’re trying to do is, number one, identify what our values are. Model those, starting with me, through the executive team and reinforce those.”
Over the last several months, ADOC aided by hundreds of law enforcement officers has carried out widespread predawn raids to confiscate contraband and send a signal that the current lawlessness will not be tolerated.
While Dunn said these raids are a necessary measure, only a long-term strategy will cure what ails the troubled prison system.
“We have experienced challenging times for many years, but this strategic plan gives us a clear blueprint to build a better ADOC,” Dunn said.
Dunn was appointed commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections on April 1, 2015, after serving 28 years in the United States Air Force and retiring at the rank of Colonel.
Governor issues call to action on mask wearing: “We are at war with an invisible enemy”
Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday issued a new call to action for all Alabamians to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Today we are at war with an invisible enemy.
Not that long ago, families across Alabama helped America turn the tide in World War II. Some joined the front lines in combat, while others led the fight on the home front.
Those sacrifices helped our nation win the war and go on to define the Greatest Generation. Now, we must answer today’s call. By comparison, our sacrifice is small.
But each of us can do our part. Mask up Alabama!
Democratic women condemn comments on Gov. Kay Ivey’s appearance
“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women.
A group of Democratic women on Wednesday issued a statement condemning comments made by a state school board member who was critical of Gov. Kay Ivey’s weight.
Wayne Reynolds, a Republican who represents portions of northwest Alabama on the board, wrote during a live stream event that Ivey, who is also a Republican, “is gaining weight.”
Afterward, in an interview with AL.com, Reynolds doubled — and then tripled — down on his comments as he critiqued Ivey’s choice of clothing.
“She looked heavy in that white suit,” Reynolds said of Ivey, who held a press conference on Wednesday to update the state’s “safer-at-home” order. “I don’t know what she weighs. I just made an observation.”
Later in the interview, Reynolds said the pantsuit Ivey wore was unflattering and that he had seen her wear other suits “that were more slimming on her.”
The backlash to Reynold’s comments was swift and bipartisan with women around the state rightfully taking issue.
“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women. “Women all over Alabama know what it is like to be subjected to unfair criticism on the basis of their appearance or weight.
“We need to cultivate an environment where individuals are judged on the basis of their skill and proficiency. Alabama elected officials should be discussing policy, not the physical appearance of policymakers. Anything less is a disservice to Alabamians. We are disturbed by Mr. Reynold’s remarks, and we hope other elected officials and candidates will likewise condemn his comments. Mr. Reynolds was wrong and we deserve better.”
The statement was signed by Amy Wasyluka, president of Alabama Democratic Women, Phyliss Harvey Hall, a District 2 congressional candidate, Dr. Adia Winfrey, a District 3 congressional candidate and Laura Casey, a candidate for president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
Nine people protesting for Medicaid expansion arrested outside Alabama Capitol
Among those arrested was former State Sen. Hank Sanders.
Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday, which for some was the second time they’d been arrested this month while trying to bring attention to expanding Medicaid in the state and to the need for racial reconciliation.
As members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurSelves held a demonstration Tuesday, which was live-streamed on former State Sen. Hank Sanders’ Facebook page, some began attempting to spray paint the words “Good Trouble,” a reference to the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis and his civil rights work, and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol and were arrested.
Still, others began to try and spray paint onto the street and were also arrested, as can be seen in the video.
Among those arrested was Sanders, who could be seen in the video being handcuffed and loaded into a Montgomery Police Department vehicle, and his wife, 75-year-old Faya Rose Toure, an attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge.
The groups had planned Tuesday’s demonstration to bring attention to their push to expand Medicaid and to the arrest of five members after a demonstration there on July 16, in which members tried to use yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street. The five turned themselves into police on July 20.
Montgomery Police Department public information officer Capt. Saba Coleman in a press release Tuesday evening said that those detained had not yet been charged. Montgomery Police declined to identify those persons who were detained.
“On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at about 12 noon, MPD responded to the area of the Capitol in reference to protesters painting the street in front of the Capitol steps. Upon arrival, MPD witnessed the protesters painting the street. At which time, MPD notified the City of Montgomery’s Traffic Engineering Department regarding the painting of the street,” Coleman said in the statement. “The paint was deemed noncompliant because organizers failed to request and obtain proper permitting and prior approval, which resulted in a crew being dispatched to the area. Protesters involved in the offense were subsequently detained; however, they were released with charges pending. There’s no additional information available for release.”
Faya Toure, Sanders’ wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge, speaking to APR on Tuesday morning before the demonstration said she planned to once again work to bring attention to the need to expand Medicaid in Alabama in order to save thousands of lives a year and that she’s also addressed the arrests earlier in the month, of which she was one.
Sanders told APR on Monday that he was “mad as hell” over the arrests which included strip searches for the women but not for the men.
In an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Toure wrote of her experience being strip-searched at the police station.
“Some say I should have resisted, but I did not,” Toure starts the letter of, then describes the act of having to strip for officers. “Within minutes the ordeal that changed my soul was over.”
In a statement, ACLU of Alabama noted that the latest arrests came “just days after a memorial service honoring Representative John Lewis was held on the same steps.”
“Once again, we see Alabama police officers using the power of the government to unnecessarily seize and detain people who are exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to assemble and protest,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of ACLU of Alabama in a statement. “While the Constitution does not explicitly protect people from legal repercussions when protesting crosses into civil disobedience, we paid tribute mere days ago to the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, a man dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience.”
“His phrase ‘good trouble’ was called that precisely because protesting unjust laws means breaking those laws. Nevertheless, we have seen time and again that change does not happen without protesters who are willing to accept these consequences in order to upend the status quo and those who uphold it,” Marshall continued. “We stand with these freedom fighters–in Montgomery, Hoover, and across the state of Alabama–who are continuing to fight for a more just and equitable world where every social problem is not addressed with handcuffs.”
Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis has died
“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
Alabama native turned Civil Rights Movement leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, mourned the passing of her friend, colleague and mentor.
“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation,” Sewell said. “May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act.”
“Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life,” Sewell continued. ”To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend.”
Lewis grew up on a farm outside of Troy, where his family were sharecroppers. At 21, he became a Freedom Rider. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. King affectionately referred to him as “the boy from Troy.”
Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Hosea Williams organized the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace ordered the then all-white Alabama State Troopers to stop Lewis and about 600 marchers. On March 7, 1965, the State Troopers, local law enforcement and hundreds of white citizen volunteers attacked Lewis and the other voting rights marchers when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Lewis was among the many marchers beaten that day. The event is remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”
“On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future,” Sewell said. “So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America.”
“John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us,” Sewell concluded. “It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship. While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”
“John Lewis was an American treasure,” said Martin Luther King III in a statement. “He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote. Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort knowing that he is free at last.”
“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy.”
Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December.
He was absent at this year’s annual remembrance of Bloody Sunday in Selma on March 1. The annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama had been led by Lewis every year until this one.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way,” former President Barack Obama wrote. “John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”
Lewis was age 80. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lilian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 after a long illness.