Connect with us

Courts

Court asked to intervene to address understaffing in Alabama prisons

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections in a Wednesday court filing argued that the state is woefully behind on court-ordered hiring of correctional officers for the state’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons, and they asked for more court intervention. 

It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers. 

“Since then, they have increased correctional staff by only 147 officers,” said attorneys for the plaintiffs in the court filing Wednesday. 

Thompson ordered ADOC to tell the court how the department planned to meet the hiring deadline, and in a response filed June 12, William Lunsford, the department’s attorney, told the court the department remains optimistic it can meet the hiring deadline, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the task more difficult. 

Lunsford told the court that since his order to hire more correctional officers, the state has made unprecedented recruitment efforts and the Alabama Legislature has increased ADOC’s budget to bolster correctional officers’ pay. He also argued that the subsequent closure of most of Holman Correctional Facility would likely result in the need for fewer correctional officers. 

ADOC’s staffing report from March 2018, the closest report to Thompson’s order to hire more officers, lists 371 supervisors and 1,096 correctional officers, totaling 1,476 correctional staff. 

Public Service Announcement

The state’s experts in the case told the court ADOC needed to employ 3,826 correctional staff, which would be an increase of 2,359 correctional officers, according to court records. 

ADOC’s staffing report from March 2020 shows the state employed 1,614 correctional officers, basic correctional officers (a newly-created position of correctional officer who have some limitations when working with inmates) and supervisors. 

“In anticipation of Defendants’ failure to make adequate progress in complying with the Understaffing Remedial Order, Plaintiffs originally requested that the Court ‘require the defendants to meet specific hiring benchmarks for correctional officers,’” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in Wednesday’s filing. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Thompson declined to require the state meet hiring benchmarks at the time, the attorneys wrote. 

“Defendants’ correctional staffing data indicate that the time is ripe for the Court to make such an intervention,” the attorneys told the court Wednesday. 

The plaintiffs’ attorneys note that in Thompson’s previous opinion, he wrote prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.” 

“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued. 

The attorneys told the court Wednesday that Thompson’s conclusion rings particularly true “in a moment when overcrowding will continue to worsen, correctional staffing remains at dangerously low rates, and the entire ADOC system is strained by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Jamal O’Neal Jackson, 29, became at least the fifth inmate in Alabama prisons who has died from a likely suicide this year. Jackson was found unresponsive in his cell at Holman Correctional Facility on May 15. 

During 2019, there were at least eight suspected suicides among inmates in state facilities.

There were at least 13 homicides among those serving in state prisons in 2019, and at least four suspected overdose deaths. So far this year, there have been at least five homicides of inmates in Alabama prisons and four possible overdose deaths.

The U.S. Department of Justice in April 2019 released a report detailing what federal investigators found were systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs, high levels of homicides and suicides and corruption in Alabama prisons.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

Advertisement

Courts

Lilly Ledbetter speaks about her friendship with Ginsburg

Micah Danney

Published

on

Lilly Ledbetter spoke during a virtual campaign event with Sen. Doug Jones on Sept. 21.

When anti-pay-discrimination icon and activist Lilly Ledbetter started receiving mail from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ledbetter’s attorney told her to save the envelopes. That’s how unusual it is to get personal mail from a member of the nation’s highest court.

Ledbetter, 82, of Jacksonville, Alabama, shared her memories of her contact with Ginsburg over the last decade during a Facebook live event hosted by Sen. Doug Jones on Monday.

Ginsburg famously read her dissent from the bench, a rare occurrence, in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 to affirm a lower court’s decision that Ledbetter was not owed damages for pay discrimination because her suit was not filed within 180 days of the setting of the policy that led to her paychecks being less than those of her male colleagues. 

Ledbetter said that Ginsburg “gave me the dignity” of publicly affirming the righteousness of Ledbetter’s case, demonstrating an attention to the details of the suit.

Ginsburg challenged Congress to take action to prevent similar plaintiffs from being denied compensation due to a statute of limitations that can run out before an employee discovers they are being discriminated against. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It resets the statute of limitation’s clock with each paycheck that is reduced by a discriminatory policy.

Ledbetter said that her heart was heavy when she learned of Ginsburg’s death on Friday. The women kept in touch after they met in 2010. That was shortly after the death of Ginsburg’s husband, tax attorney Marty Ginsburg. She spoke about her pain to Ledbetter, whose husband Charles had died two years before.

Public Service Announcement

“So we both shared that, and we shared a tear,” said Ledbetter.

Ginsburg invited her to her Supreme Court chambers to see a framed copy of the act, next to which hung a pen that Obama used to sign it.

Ginsburg later sent Ledbetter a signed copy of a cookbook honoring her husband that was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society. Included with it was a personal note, as was the case with other pieces of correspondence from the justice that Ledbetter received at her home in Alabama. They were often brochures and other written materials that Ginsburg received that featured photos of both women.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ledbetter expressed her support for Jones in his race against GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville. The filling of Ginsburg’s seat is a major factor in that, she said.

“I do have to talk from my heart, because I am scared to death for the few years that I have yet to live because this country is not headed in the right direction,” she said.

She noted that Ginsburg was 60 when she was appointed to the court. Ledbetter said that she opposes any nominee who is younger than 55 because they would not have the experience and breadth of legal knowledge required to properly serve on the Supreme Court.

She said that issues like hers have long-term consequences that are made even more evident by the financial strains resulting from the pandemic, as she would have more retirement savings had she been paid what her male colleagues were.

Jones called Ledbetter a friend and hero of his.

“I’ve been saying to folks lately, if those folks at Goodyear had only done the right thing by Lilly Ledbetter and the women that worked there, maybe they’d still be operating in Gadsden these days,” he said.

Continue Reading

Courts

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(APR GRAPHIC/SUPREME COURT PORTRAIT)

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a champion of women’s rights and voter protections on the nation’s highest court — died Friday at the age of 87 from complications from metastatic pancreas cancer.

The justice died at her home in Washington D.C., surrounded by family. Only the second woman ever to be appointed to the highest court in the nation, she served 27 years on the court, becoming a champion for women’s rights and voter protections. 

“This news is a devastating loss for our country and for all those who have been inspired by the inimitable Justice Ginsburg during her long and historic career. Justice Ginsburg led a life guided by principle and filled with purpose. A true trailblazer in the legal field in her own right, she inspired generations of young women to reach for heights that previously felt impossible. Through her quiet dignity, her willingness to bridge political divides, and her steady pursuit of justice, she was a standard-bearer for positive leadership,” Sen. Doug Jones said in a statement. 

“Her bold dissents in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Shelby County v. Holder cases are particularly meaningful to me, and to so many in Alabama and across the country. She stood for what was right and for the constitutional principles of equality and democracy that she held dear, even if it meant she was in the minority on the Court. As only the second woman to ever serve on the Court, she made full use of her opportunity to serve as a voice for women on the bench.

“Beyond her legal acumen, Justice Ginsburg will also be remembered for her sharp wit, her tireless advocacy for voting rights, and her historic role in fighting for a more equal society for women across the country. She will be greatly missed. Louise and I extend our sincerest condolences to Justice Ginsburg’s loved ones. We’re praying for them as they grieve this tremendous loss,” Jones said. 

Margaret Huang, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement Friday said that our country has lost a monumental and transformative figure. 

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not only a trailblazer, a hero, and a singular inspiration, she was also a deeply principled person who demonstrated great courage and conviction throughout her entire legal career,” Huang said. 

Public Service Announcement

“At the time of her appointment in 1993, Justice Ginsburg was only the second woman to be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court, but it wasn’t her first time in the Court. As director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, she argued and won five cases before the Justices. And from her first term, she made it her mission to guarantee equal protection for women and other marginalized communities. We are eternally grateful for her decades of work — and landmark achievements — in pursuit of this essential goal.

“In her later years, she became an icon for a younger generation. Her resolute determination for justice inspired millions, including all of us at the Southern Poverty Law Center. With her countless accomplishments in mind and some of her courage in our hearts, we recommit ourselves to continuing her mission to achieve justice and equity for all,” Huang continued.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said our nation has lost a justice of historic stature.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice,” Roberts said.

Continue Reading

Courts

Defense attorneys call for AG to drop charges against Selma police officers

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Attorney General Steve Marshall

Attorneys Julian McPhillips Jr. and David Sawyer are holding a news conference in Montgomery Thursday to again ask Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to drop charges against three Black Selma Police Officers who were re-indicted on felony charges of lying to the attorney general.

McPhillips and Sawyer say that Marshall’s actions caused the three Selma Police Officers — Jeff Hardy, Tori Neeley and Kendall Thomas — to all be re-indicted, a move that the defense attorneys call unprecedented.

“For almost two years, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Arrington, assigned to the case, has refused to specify what the lie is, or was,” McPhillips and Sawyer wrote. “There has been no particulars as to any crime alleged, such as time, place, persons, things, and other details.”

McPhillips and Sawyer also are asking Marshall to stop issuing motions to recuse African-American judges in Lowndes County from the case. The first judge was Judge Collins Pettaway.

In July, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the AG’s motion to remove Pettaway.

The AG’s office has said that the officers are being accused of “lying about the condition of the evidence room” and “lying about whether they were not allowed to re-enter the evidence room until they received permission from the Attorney General.”

The officers allegedly said the evidence room was “left in disarray” and the attorney general’s office said, “oh no, it was not in disarray.” Such differences are a matter of opinion, and not the subject of a criminal indictment, McPhillips says.

Public Service Announcement

“Such a petty dispute, driven apparently by rivalry, jealously, and/or racism from the Attorney General’s Office is unbecoming the highest law enforcement office in Alabama,” charged McPhillips.

Now, the attorney general’s office is seeking to remove Judge Marvin Wiggins — who is also African-American and was just recently assigned to the case.

The attorneys say that before calling this news conference, they tried twice to speak with Marshall about their concerns in this case but were rebuffed both times.

ADVERTISEMENT

McPhillips and Sawyer are renewing their call on Marshall to dismiss the cases against the law enforcement officers, because the charges “are frivolous, irresponsible, racially discriminatory, and counter-productive to good law enforcement.”

McPhillips and Sawyer promise to reveal even more of the “unseemly details” at the news conference with all three policemen present and speaking in their own defense.

If Marshall refuses to dismiss the case, McPhillips and Sawyer are calling upon him to immediately cease all efforts to remove Wiggins.

The defense attorneys stated that this second recusal request is unfounded, highly racially prejudicial, discriminatory and unsavory.

Continue Reading

Courts

Former Tallapoosa Soil and Water Conservation District employee convicted of theft

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Wednesday that the former district administrative coordinator for the Tallapoosa County Soil and Water Conservation District, Amanda M. Milford, has been convicted of theft of property in the first degree.

Milford, age 40, lives in Alexander City. She pleaded guilty to an information, a procedure in which felony charges are resolved without requiring grand jury involvement. She was sentenced by Tallapoosa County District Court Judge Kim Taylor to two years imprisonment and ordered to pay $59,473.13 in restitution.

Milford’s sentence of imprisonment was suspended and she was placed on probation for a period of five years.

An audit conducted by the Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts discovered the theft, which was further investigated by the attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division. Milford used her signature authority for bank accounts belonging to the Tallapoosa County Soil and Water Conservation District to steal public funds, duplicate travel expenses and alter her rate of pay to receive an inflated paycheck.

The district court ordered Milford to pay restitution for both the amount she stole from the Soil and Water Conservation District and non-sufficient funds fees incurred as a result of Milford’s theft.

Marshall commended his Special Prosecutions Division for its work in the case. He also expressed his appreciation for the assistance provided by the Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts, the Tallapoosa County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Tallapoosa County District Attorney’s Office.

Public Service Announcement
Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement