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Alabama Corrections Commissioner’s Contempt Order Upheld

Alabama Corrections Commissioner's Contempt Order Upheld

Alabama's Supreme Court has affirmed a Montgomery County Circuit Court's order holding Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Richard Allen in contempt, with the threat of jail time. The order stemmed from a lawsuit filed by counties that sought to enforce a judicial stipulation to remove state-sentenced prisoners from county jails within 30 days.

A running dispute between ADOC and the counties has been ongoing since 1991. The dispute centers on ADOC's failure to remove state-sentenced prisoners from county jails, causing overcrowding at those facilities. In January 2004 the state Supreme Court affirmed an order requiring ADOC to remove a certain number of sentenced prisoners from the county jails each week. Once all of the state prisoners were removed from the facilities, ADOC was required to receive prisoners within 30 days of receiving their transcripts from the counties. See: Haley v. Barbour County, 885 So.2d 783 (Ala 2004).

By December 2005, however, the number of state prisoners in county jails had grown to more than 800 and the counties returned to court. On May 11, 2006 the Circuit Court held Allen in contempt and threatened to jail him if he failed to meet a schedule to remove state prisoners from the jails. Allen had inherited the case, and the contempt finding, from former ADOC Commissioner Donal Campbell.

Allen filed an appeal but complied with the order. The Alabama Supreme Court rejected the state's argument that the ruling violated the separation-of-powers doctrine, as it had found otherwise in Haley. Thus, the justices declined to address the jurisdictional challenge and affirmed the Circuit Court's order.

The Supreme Court noted, however, that the contempt issue was moot, stating, "Because the commissioner has purged himself of contempt and is no longer under the threat of incarceration, we need not consider the commissioner's arguments related to the contempt issue."

Of course if the backlog of state-sentenced prisoners at county facilities reoccurs, Commissioner Allen could find himself serving a contempt sentence at one of those overcrowded jails. See: Allen v. Barbour County, __ So.2d __ (Ala. 2007), 2007 WL 1793874 (June 22, 2007).

Additional source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Allen v. Barbour County