SPLC Proposes ‘Collaborative Process’ to Address Prison Crisis

Posted by .

The SPLC says litigation with the ADOC concerning mental health and medical care will likely continue for several more years if ADOC does not make adequate changes.

Mary Scott Hodgin,WBHM

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn proposing its own plan to address the state’s prison crisis.

“Our prison system is facing a crisis of Alabama’s own making and, like you, we believe in an Alabama solution,” the letter reads. “Our hope is that this letter is the first step in a collaborative process to address the deficiencies in the state’s prisons, protect the rights of incarcerated people, and ensure the safety of incarcerated people and state.”

Alabama’s prisons are significantly overcrowded and understaffed, with record-high levels of violence and suicide. In its letter, the SPLC responds to state efforts to address these issues and outlines recommendations for prison construction, improving staffing levels and sentencing reform.

Earlier this year, Ivey and commissioner Dunn announced a plan to replace several men’s prisons with three larger regional prisons that would house over 3,000 inmates each. The SPLC says it opposes this plan and instead suggests replacing two current prisons with buildings that would house no more than 1,000 inmates each. It also recommends constructing a prison devoted to medical and mental health services.

ADOC has requested an additional $31 million from the state budget to hire an extra 500 correctional officers. The SPLC says that is not enough and suggests increasing the request to support hiring more than 1,000 officers.

“The SPLC stands ready to work with the governor, with the commissioner, with the legislature and any other Alabama leaders and advocates, because we hope to solve this crisis,” SPLC attorney Ebony Howard said in a Tuesday press conference.

Officials with the governor’s office and the Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The issue of prison reform has recently become more urgent for state leaders. Just last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report detailing gruesome acts of violence and sexual assault in state prisons. The report lists several short- and long-term measures for the department to improve conditions. The DOJ says if the state does not comply within 49 days of receiving the report, it could face a federal lawsuit by the U.S. Attorney General.

ADOC is already involved in a class-action federal lawsuit about insufficient mental health and medical care of state inmates. The case, Braggs v. Dunn, began in 2014 and has resulted in court orders against the ADOC to increase staffing levels and improve mental health treatment of inmates. The SPLC is one of the plaintiffs on the case. In its letter to Gov. Ivey and commissioner Dunn, the group says litigation has cost the state millions of dollars and that it is “open to discussing potential resolutions to the issues in Braggs.” The SPLC also says litigation will likely continue for several more years if ADOC does not make adequate changes.


Note: The Southern Poverty Law Center is a sponsor of WBHM, but our news and business departments work independently. 

Mary Scott Hodgin

Mary Scott Hodgin

Health and Science Reporter

Advocates Want Lawmakers to End the Habitual Offender Act

Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy meets Thursday to talk sentencing. Advocates want the group to address the state’s Habitual Felony Offender Act.

Governor’s Study Group Meets on Prison Operations

Gov. Kay Ivey’s task force on criminal justice policy convened Wednesday in Montgomery to discuss the state’s troubled prison system.

DOJ Alleges Alabama Prisons Violate the Constitution

The Department of Justice released a report Wednesday alleging that violence and other dangerous conditions in the state’s male prisons violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Alabama Says its $900 Million Prisons Plan Can Help Fix Mental Health Crisis. Some Disagree.

As Alabama prisons continue to grapple with a federal lawsuit over mental health care, officials say they have a plan: they want to build three big regional prisons for men.

Alabama Prison Officials “Deliberately Indifferent” to Mental Health Needs

A federal judge ruled the Alabama prison system has failed to monitor the mental health of prisoners isolated in segregation cells, a failure to which the Alabama Department of Corrections is “deliberately indifferent,” the order says.