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Alabama DOC Stonewalling Federal Investigation; Eight Prisoners go on Hunger Strike

by Douglas Ankney

On October 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition to enforce a subpoena naming Jefferson S. Dunn, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), as the respondent. The petition seeks an order to show cause why Dunn should not be ordered to comply with the DOJ’s subpoena seeking prison records.

The department began investigating the ADOC in October 2016. The investigation into 13 state prisons housing male prisoners is being conducted pursuant to Section 3A(b)(2) of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997a-1. CRIPA “authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement in correctional facilities and initiate civil actions ... where the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that any State ... or person acting on behalf of a State is subjecting persons residing in or confined to an institution ... to egregious or flagrant conditions which deprive such persons of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution....”

Specifically, the DOJ is seeking “to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of failing to protect prisoners from: (1) physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners; (2) the use of excessive force and sexual abuse by correctional officers or staff; and (3) the lack of sanitary, secure, and safe living conditions.” 

Relentless violence, including an extraordinarily high rate of murders, assaults and suicides, continues unabated in ADOC facilities. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.30]. The DOJ has set up a toll-free hotline that prisoners can use to contact investigators. 

“On an almost daily basis, the Department receives calls from prisoners and family members recounting allegations of violence, sexual abuse, and death in Alabama prisons,” attorneys for the DOJ wrote in a court filing.

Most recently, two prisoners were murdered at the Bibb County Correctional Facility within three days. Ray Anthony Little, 56, was stabbed to death on March 15, 2019, while Quinton A. Few was killed by another prisoner on March 12. Several days earlier, on March 8, Bibb County prisoner Rashaud Dederic Morrissett, 24, committed suicide.

To investigate deaths and incidents of violence in state prisons, the DOJ requested various documents from the ADOC – including investigative files, autopsy reports, medical records, prison duty logs and Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) reports. When state prison officials failed or refused to comply with the request, the DOJ issued a subpoena in May 2017.

Even after being subpoenaed, the ADOC failed to produce the documents. Prison officials claimed the scope of the requested records was “too cumbersome,” and that they lacked the staff and resources to comply with the subpoena because the ADOC was “currently in the remedy phase of a system-wide class action lawsuit over prison mental healthcare and in the midst of two settlement agreements at Tutwiler Prison for Women and St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2019, p.16].

Unfortunately, the DOJ’s investigation was put on hold on December 21, 2018 due to the federal government shutdown, leading to a delay in the case. See: United States v. Dunn, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:18-mc-03837-WKW-GMB.

Additionally, in March 2019, eight prisoners who had been transferred from the St. Clair Correctional Facility to the Holman Correctional Facility went on a hunger strike to protest their “preventive” placement in solitary confinement.

The prisoners, Mario Avila, Antonio Jackson, Jr., Corey Burroughs, Earl Manassa, Kotoni Tellis, Tyree Cochran, Marcus Lee and Earl Taylor, were part of a group moved to the Holman prison following a contraband sweep; according to the ADOC, their placement in solitary was not a disciplinary action.

A press release from Unheard Voices, a criminal justice advocacy organization, said the prisoners who were transferred received a notice from prison officials stating they will “remain in Restrictive Housing in Preventative status for peace and tranquility of the institution as directed by [the] Institution Coordinator.”

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Additional sources: wbrc.com, Montgomery Advertiser, Associated Press

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