Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn is to resign at the end of the year, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced Tuesday.
Dunn’s pending departure is seen by some as a needed step for the department to address the systemic problems detailed in a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit alleging violations of incarcerated mens’ constitutional rights to protection from sexual and physical assaults, corruption, rampant drug use and deaths.
Dunn was appointed to his position by former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2015, and had no previous experience working in corrections.
If Alabama lawmakers fail to address the federal government’s concerns, Alabama’s prisons could fall under federal oversight.
In a second amended complaint filed by the DOJ in November, the federal government details numerous instances of violence and death inside Alabama’s prisons for men.
The complaint accuses the Alabama Department of Corrections of engaging “in a pattern or practice that obscures the level of harm from prisoner violence,” by continuing to under-report and failing to accurately report deaths inside Alabama’s prisons.
Ivey on Tuesday announced her appointment of John Hamm, current deputy secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, to replace Dunn, who is to remain on the job through the end of the year.
“The Ivey Administration has made tackling the decades-neglected challenges of the state’s prison system an imperative focus, and under Commissioner Dunn’s leadership, the Department has made significant progress. After almost seven years in his position, Commissioner Dunn plans to step down at the end of December,” Ivey’s office said in a statement.
“For decades, the challenges of our state’s prison system have gone unaddressed and have grown more difficult as a result, but after assuming office, I committed to the people of Alabama that we would solve this once and for all,” Ivey said. “Commissioner Dunn and I have worked together to make many foundational changes, including getting the Alabama Prison Plan moving across the finish line, and I know this critical step will make a difference for decades to come.”
Hamm has experience working in corrections at both the state and local levels, Ivey’s office said, and prior to his current position at ALEA, he worked at the State Bureau of Investigation.
“Ensuring public safety is at the forefront of our mission when it comes to the Alabama Department of Corrections. From protecting our inmates to correctional staff to the public, that must be a top priority, and we will have a strong leader in John Hamm,” Ivey said. “We have taken important steps, and now, we must build upon those, and John has committed to me that he is prepared to do just that. I am confident in the direction we will take this department in the coming years.”
“I am honored and humbled by Governor Ivey appointing me as commissioner of Corrections,” Hamm said in a statement. “I will work diligently with the men and women of DOC to fulfill Governor Ivey’s charge of solving the issues of Alabama’s prison system.”