Judge dismisses Alabama’s request to dismiss parts of DOJ lawsuit against prison system

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A federal judge rejected Alabama’s request to dismiss some of the allegations in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state’s prison system, but also ordered the DOJ to be more specific in some of its allegations.

U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor released his ruling on Friday in the DOJ lawsuit filed last year, partially dismissing and partially granting a motion filed by state attorneys in June.

(See the decision at the end of this article.)

The DOJ sued the state in December 2020 after a two-year investigation, alleging that the failure to protect inmates in men’s prisons from violence and sexual abuse by other inmates and the failure to provide conditions security measures violated the Constitution. The DOJ then added allegations of excessive use of force against inmates by prison staff.

State lawyers acknowledge the problems with the prison system but deny that the conditions violate the Constitution.

The lawsuit is in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The DOJ alleges that a severe shortage of correctional officers is an underlying cause of the problems.

The DOJ filed an amended lawsuit in May after the court ordered the allegations to be more specific and name the prisons where the violence and other issues occurred.

In June, state attorneys asked the court to dismiss DOJ’s claims about the safety and health conditions, saying they were still too vague in the amended complaint. Of these allegations, the DOJ only mentioned four of the 12 prisons involved in the trial, two of which have closed or partially closed.

Proctor concurred with the state’s view, calling the Justice Department’s amended complaint a “hunting plea” because it made broad claims about the “lack of adequate surveillance cameras,” “faulty locks. And “insufficient convex mirrors”, but did not name the prisons where these conditions existed. In its Friday decision, Proctor ordered the DOJ to re-file the requests with more details.

State attorneys also asked the court to dismiss the understaffing allegations because the Alabama Department of Corrections is already subject to federal court orders in a separate lawsuit aimed at to increase its staff, a matter which concerns mental health care for inmates. Proctor denied the state’s request to dismiss understaffing issues in the DOJ case.

Proctor also denied the state’s request to review whether the U.S. Attorney General met certain requirements by allowing the trial to proceed under a federal law called the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, or CRIPA.

Proctor has agreed with other federal courts to find that the attorney general’s certification of the prosecution was not subject to review.

Alabama lawmakers on Oct. 1 approved a plan to build two 4,000-bed prisons to replace at least four of the existing prisons, at a cost of $ 1.3 billion. Governor Kay Ivey and legislative leaders said the new prisons would be a key step in making prisons safer and improving rehabilitation programs. Critics of the plan say the new buildings will not solve what the DOJ says is poor oversight and mismanagement of the prison system.


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