The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday it has opened a statewide investigation into violence, rape, overcrowding, among other problems and conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men.
Specifically, the investigation will focus on whether prisoners are adequately protected from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners; whether prisoners are adequately protected from use of excessive force and staff sexual abuse by correctional officers; and whether the prisons provide sanitary, secure and safe living conditions.
“The Constitution requires that prisons provide humane conditions of confinement,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division stated in the announcement. “We hope to work cooperatively with the state of Alabama in conducting our inquiry and ensuring that the state’s facilities keep prisoners safe from harm.”
The DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the three U.S. Attorney’s Offices — the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts in Alabama — will conduct the investigation.
“Our obligation is to protect the civil rights of all citizens, including those who are incarcerated,” said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama. “This investigation provides us with an opportunity to work collaboratively with the state of Alabama to assess current conditions and ensure constitutionally sufficient conditions exist for all prisoners.”
Prison overcrowding has exacerbated the problems within the prisons. State prisons in January housed 25,102 inmates in facilities designed to hold 13,318, putting the system at 188 percent capacity. The crowding level has contributed to risky conditions for those on both sides of the prison bars. Over the past year, the state’s two largest men’s prisons have been commonplace to riots and violence.
“The vulnerability of a prisoner makes it even more important that basic hygiene and safe accommodations are afforded the inmates,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama.
The Justice Department has yet to reach any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter.
The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). Under CRIPA, the department has the authority to investigate violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights that result from a “pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of such rights.”
“All citizens, even those who are incarcerated, should expect sanitary conditions of habitation that are free of physical harm and sexual abuse,” added U.S. Attorney Kenyen R. Brown of the Southern District of Alabama.
Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department via phone at (205) 244-2001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.