The ACLU of Alabama on Monday criticized Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision earlier in the day to sign off on 30-year leases with the private prison company CoreCivic to build and maintain two new men’s prisons.
“Prison construction is not and has never been the answer to the unconstitutional conditions in Alabama prisons, and the Department of Justice said as much when it issued the first report in April 2019, so it is outrageous to see Governor Ivey waste billions of taxpayer dollars on continuing the state’s dependency on incarceration,” the ACLU of Alabama said in a statement. “Furthermore, the lack of transparency and oversight around these contracts and the full cost to the state will have unforeseen consequences for Alabama’s economy and financial security for decades to come.”
ACLU of Alabama noted the state’s problem with rampant violence and deaths in its prisons, which, coupled with overcrowding and understaffing, led to a lengthy investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which in December sued the state over its prisons.
“While investigators look into what happened in December when Tommy Rutledge died from hyperthermia after being held in an over-100 degree cell, we have also learned about corrections officers attacking incarcerated organizers over the weekend, leading to Robert Earl Council being airlifted to UAB for severe head trauma,” the statement continues. “This culture of violence, sexual assault, brutality, and neglect, and the state’s indifference to doing anything to provide immediate relief, led to the DOJ filing suit against ADOC last month. Without substantive reforms through the Legislature, the DOJ litigation could lead to even more federally imposed costs, while also doing nothing to prevent the new prison buildings from ending up in the same state of overcrowding and disrepair.”
Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn have said that the state’s current prisons are in poor disrepair and not designed in ways to increase safety for inmates and staff, and that the new prisons are needed to address the problems with violence and a lack of space for rehabilitative classes and programs. Skeptics of the plan say the prison plan is too costly, lacks transparency and doesn’t address the systemic problems detailed by the DOJ’s reports and lawsuit.
ACLU of Alabama also called on state legislators to address prison overcrowding by repealing Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, knows as the state’s “three strikes law.”
“HFOA is a major contributor to overcrowding, and it is past time that the Legislature repeal this broken law. Rep. Chris England has filed a bill that is on the agenda this week, and it would be a significant step towards overhauling HFOA, easing the current overcrowding crisis, reducing the costs of long-term incarceration, and giving people a chance to be redeemed and re-enter society. If it comes up for a vote on Wednesday in the House Judiciary committee, legislators must vote yes,” ACLU of Alabama’s statement reads.