Historically the United States has long positioned itself as a country known for its humanitarian views and strong belief of equal justice under the law. However, the situation throughout the country when it comes to justice should raise serious concerns about criminal justice. When one looks at the shocking statistic that the US has only five percent of the world’s population but 20 percent of its prisoners, you have to be concerned.
Meanwhile, the situation is certain states is particularly heinous.
Findings issued by the United States Department of Justice demonstrate the shocking rise in violence and sexual assaults in Alabama’s prisons over the past five years. These findings leave no doubt that there is a humanitarian crisis in the state’s prisons. Photographs are now showing up in local and national media that showcase the violence that state officials have long hid from public eyes.
WBRC News reported last week the horrific conditions at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama, based on more than 2500 photographs that were provided to the station on a jump drive in an envelope with no return address. They were provided anonymously Reporter Beth Shelburne showed the photographs to two former St. Clair correctional officers who both confirmed their authenticity. We have no confirmation at this time why they are no longer with St. Clair.
WBRC stated that the photos “give us an unprecedented and visceral window into what we’ve been reporting for years, but have never actually seen.” The story continues:
“Alabama prisons are a slaughterhouse, where rape, stabbings, murder and extortion happen around the clock, as confirmed in the recent Department of Justice investigation.”
In the wake of the Department of Justice’s letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, law enforcement leaders across the state have called on officials to act with urgency. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Richard Moore, said in a statement that the findings indicate a “flagrant disregard” for the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.
“The failure to respect the rule of law by providing humane treatment for inmates in Alabama prisons is a poor reflection on those of us who live and work in Alabama,” Mr. Moore said. “We are better than this. We do not need to tarry very long assessing blame, but rather commit to righting this wrong and spare our State further embarrassment.”
Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, agreed. “This massive undertaking alleges constitutional troubles in the Alabama Department of Corrections which are serious, systemic, and in need of fundamental and comprehensive change,” he said in a statement.
The Justice Department’s letter shows — in detail — 25 immediate reform measures that Alabama must make a priority to reign in this violence and drug trafficking. The remedies are like those sought in EJI’s lawsuit about the situation at St. Clair and (according to a statement) “would address the root causes of prison violence: management deficiencies, inadequate investigations, the absence of internal classification systems for housing prisoners, severe staffing shortages, the absence of rehabilitative programming, the failure to intervene in drug trafficking, and the failure to treat a drug epidemic that is out of control.
“EJI believes that Alabama must act with a sense of urgency to implement the Justice Department’s recommendations, none of which requires or can be meaningfully addressed with new prison construction.”