The Justice Department charged Alabama with failing to protect prisoners from violence and sexual abuse, escalating a long-running battle over the state’s correctional system, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a complaint Wednesday, DOJ said conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men are unconstitutional. The state fails to protect inmates from assaults, neglects to provide safe and sanitary conditions and subjects prisoners to excessive force by staff, the suit said.“ Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence,” said Eric Dreiband, DOJ’s civil rights chief. “The violations have led to homicides, rapes and serious injuries.”
Alabama’s prison system has long been dangerous, overcrowded and understaffed. Its homicide rate is one of the highest in U.S. correctional systems. Court battles and federal investigations have prompted state officials to try overhauling the correctional system, but violence and other woes have persisted. Gov. Kay Ivey said, “This is disappointing news” and that Alabama continues revamping the correctional system. The Southern Poverty Law Center and others sued in 2014 over alleged failures to address the medical and mental-health needs of prisoners. A federal judge called the correctional system’s handling of those needs “horrendously inadequate.” The lawsuit announced Wednesday stems from along Justice Department investigation into the state’s men’s prisons. Alabama has been increasing prison mental-health staffing, and Ivey is pursuing a plan to build three new prisons.