Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
DOJ sues Alabama over prison conditions
Ichigo121212 / Pixabay
DOJ sues Alabama over prison conditions

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama over conditions in state prisons, asserting that Alabama has failed to protect prisoners from violence.

The DOJ brought its lawsuit under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act as well as the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. The complaint maintains that Alabama has violated prisoner rights by: (1) failing to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse, (2) failing to prevent excessive force by security staff, and (3) provide safe conditions of confinement. The complaint asserts that the “State of Alabama has failed or refused to correct the unconstitutional conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men.”

First, the complaint claims, “prisoners housed in Alabama prisons for men are at serious risk of death, physical violence, and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners.” The complaint provides various examples of prisoners who were seriously injured by other prisoners. In addition, the complaint reveals that “at least 9 men have been killed by other prisoners in the first six months of 2020.”

The complaint then alleges that security staff often use excessive force in violation of the Constitution. The complaint provides various examples of prisoner injuries and security staff practices. “Security staff have a practice of using force on prisoners and then placing those prisoners in segregation or restricted housing until any injuries can heal unobserved and undocumented.”

Finally, the complaint maintains that Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded and lack adequate facilities, including toilets and showers. The complaint states Alabama’s prisons are more overcrowded than they were in 2016. For instance, Alabama’s prisons for men were originally designed to hold about 9,882 men. However, a report from September indicates that the prisons hold about 15,297 men. The complaint describes how these conditions heighten tensions among prisoners, which results in increased violence.

Overall, the DOJ claims that the state of Alabama is “deliberately indifferent” to the above constitutional violations. The DOJ seeks to enjoin Alabama from continuing its current practices and require the state to take measures ensuring constitutional conditions of confinement.