APRIL 5, 2020
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RE: Deadly conditions inside of Alabama prisons and the need for decisive actions by Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic
TO: GOVERNOR KAY IVEY, THE ALABAMA LEGISLATURE AND OTHER STATE LEADERSHIP
Dear Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Legislature and ADOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn:
We are releasing this statement from inside the Alabama prison system on behalf of ourselves, and on behalf of our families and those who are impacted by the Alabama prison system, including the employees and their families. All facilities within the Alabama prison system are facing a new crisis involving Covid-19. Because of the limited information we were provided, we’ve only recently become aware of the two ADOC employees that tested positive for this deadly virus. Meanwhile those of us on the inside, inclusive of less than 20 individuals total, only recently began being tested.
We, our families, the employees, and their families, are fearful for our lives and well-being in the midst of this crisis. We are looking to our state leaders to take actions that reflect (show) value for our lives equally to that of any other human life.
For the past several years, much attention has been paid to the Alabama prison system, but very little has been done to remedy the problems that the prison system is faced with. Now, with COVID-19 looming as a threat projected to kill approx. 250,000, experts, legal professionals, and others, are forecasting catastrophic results for America’s overcrowded prisons.
These pressing issues dictate that it is time for politics to take a backseat and for sound-humanitarian action to be placed in the forefront concerning the lives of those of us who are incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections (as well as those whose lives that are directly or indirectly connected to the prison system).
It is well established that Alabama’s state prisons are severely overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed relative to the overcrowded population and are already dealing with substantial issues. With much of the disaster still ahead of us, we have yet to receive any protective supplies to help combat this deadly virus, and it is well-known that there are few ventilators available in the prison system.
Based on the response that we have seen so far within the ADOC, it is a legitimate question to ask: Do the leaders of this state care about our lives inside of these prisons?? Are we nothing more than commodities being used to fund the canteen and incentive packages, and for the use of our free labor?
On January 26, 2020, Alabama prison Commissioner Jefferson Dunn stated during an interview with the Wall Street Journal the following:
“Our infrastructure was not designed to rehabilitate. It was designed to warehouse.”
Consistent with that statement, one federal judge after another has described Alabama prisons as deplorable and in violation of the basic human rights and moral decency of those incarcerated with the ADOC facilities. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who is currently presiding over class-action litigation Duke et al., v. Dunn, et al., Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-1952-VEH, (Equal Justice Initiative) concerning Alabama prisons, recently approved a private settlement where over $600,000.00 in attorney fees was paid to attorneys from Equal Justice Initiative finding that systemic overcrowding levels were creating problems that rendered St. Clair prison (and many others) uncontrollable, and that the ADOC must reduce the population of the prison in order to meet the federal constitutional standard.
Already though, this order and private settlement are being reviewed for non-compliance by ADOC. In addition, on April 4, 2019, the US Department of Justice stated that after investigating the ADOC for nearly two years, the conditions of Alabama prisons violate the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Furthermore, there are multiple class-action lawsuits pending in federal court concerning these and other conditions, including inadequate mental health care and inadequate medical care; plus an additional 70-plus lawsuits pending against ADOC officers for using excessive force, sexual assault by corrections staff, inhumane conditions of confinement, and for retaliation by ADOC against those individuals who have exposed these conditions inside the prisons. These issues point to clear signs that Alabama’s $600,000,000.00 prison system is out of control and a failed state institution.
Just this past Monday, March 30, 2020, yet another person was killed due to violence inside an Alabama prison. This death is compounded by the fact that in 2019, the Alabama prison system recorded more deaths due to violence than in any year prior. In addition to violent deaths, Alabama’s prison system leads the nation, or ranks near the top, in suicide deaths. Reporter Beth Shelburne recently described the culture inside of ADOC as criminogenic, meaning that it engenders criminal behavior. This is substantiated by the fact that over 70 officers have been fired in the past two years for trafficking drugs into the prisons. Several other officers have been convicted for violating the rights of incarcerated citizens, and last year two individuals (Stephen Davis and Michael Smith) were beaten to death by correctional officers. Both incidents remain under federal investigation.
Despite this grim reality, solutions to these problems have not been forthcoming, and countless people continue to be negatively impacted by this failed institution. Based on current empirical data from how the government has responded to previous conditions in ADOC, we are posing the question: how many of us will be left to die in this COVID-19 pandemic?
In the event of an outbreak, what, exactly is the ADOC’s plan to respond? Why has this plan not been communicated to us? When will testing begin in earnest? Where will we be quarantined? While test results are pending, where will these patients be isolated ? How many ventilators are available? How many nurses are available?
HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF
In 1971, Alabama’s prisons were facing the exact same issues that, like today, lead to class action lawsuits in federal court. As you all know, those federal lawsuits lead to a federal takeover of the Alabama prison system that lasted until 1985, when federal oversight ended. (Newman v. Alabama and Pugh v. Locke, 349 F. Supp. 278 (M.D. Ala. 1972); James v. Wallace, 406 F. Supp. 318 (M.D. Ala. 1974).
The “solutions” offered back in 1971, are the cause of the problems today. Alabama approved a plan to build new prisons – St. Clair CF, now the deadliest prison in the entire United States, being one of them – and for passage of the draconian and oppressive Habitual Felony Offender Act. This law is acutely responsible for the unconstitutional overcrowding that drove the prison system off the cliff today, and lead to excessively long sentences that have produced an aging population of men and women who have served 20, 30, 40 or even 50- plus years consecutively. These men and women are now elderly, in poor health from decades of incarceration, and the most vulnerable to the COVID 19 virus.
Building new prisons back then did not solve those problems, and building new prisons today will not solve these problems. Instead, the prison system has a problem with culture, leadership and with coming to grips with issues of race in the criminal justice system that have yet to be resolved. These cultural and structural issues transferred from the old prisons to the new ones, and that is exactly why the exact same problems exist today. There is a current opioid crisis, a methamphetamine crisis, a synthetic drug crisis, as well as biological diseases like TB and Hepatitis running wild in ADOC. As all of you know, these facts have been confirmed by the April 4, 2019, U. S. Department of Justice Report on Alabama prisons. COVID 19, with its potential to explode on our overcrowded prison population, threatens to bring an unimaginable and unfathomable death toll if we don’t act.
A VIABLE SOLUTION IN THE ALABAMA PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT
One option available to us it litigation pursuant to the Alabama Prison Litigation Reform Act, Title 14-15-10, Code of Alabama 1975, which authorizes a judge to issue a release order to address prison conditions where “(1) Crowding is the primary cause of the violation of a right” and “A court has previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed to remedy. ” Failure to act by State leaders will only ensure public shame in the near future for the deliberate, malicious sentence of death imposed upon all the unfortunate who eventually succumb to Covid-19 while incarcerated in facilities that were deemed unconstitutional and uninhabitable long before there ever was a Covid-19 pandemic. (It should be noted here that only around 200 of the 24,000+ people the ADOC houses are under court ordered sentences of death).
A recent poll conducted by the ACLU indicates that 63% percent of taxpayers support releasing people from jails/prisons and 72% support clemency for elderly incarcerated people in the face of the COVID 19 pandemic. Governor Ivey and Alabama Legislatures, a failure to act now to save as many lives as possible, after so many citizens have already expressed approval of release, will extract an additional financial cost on taxpayers in federal court for wrongful and preventable deaths, and will come at a huge political cost during the upcoming election cycle. We will not stand by and be silent and forgiving for such a callous disregard for our lives. The ADOC lacks sufficient ventilators and lacks the necessary space to quarantine off the virus, which convinces us that the plan in place is a plan for COVID 19 to slaughter. It is well-known what will be needed to stave off this virus, and we know that those types of resources don’t exist in these prisons.
As people on the ground who are experiencing this crisis in real time, we offer the foregoing plan in effort to save our own lives and the lives of those who, as a result of their contact with us and ADOC, are affected by the pending COVID 19 crisis in the ADOC.
DETAILED ACTIONS NECESSARY TO SAVE LIVES IN ALABAMA PRISONS:
As an act of compassion and in order to prevent humanitarian catastrophe, Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature should take the following actions immediately:
1. Order medical leave for all employees working within the ADOC who are elderly, having a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19, and/or who may be immuno-compromised;
2. Grant compassionate release of all chronic-care, cancer treatment, dialysis, and patients suffering from respiratory issues, who are elderly, disabled, and/or immuno-compromised;
3. End parole revocations that are not based on the commission of new crimes, and release all current technical violators and those incarcerated because of drug addiction, or because of an inability to pay fines or child support obligations.
4. Immediately abolish the Habitual Felony Offender Act, and
5. Immediately release all juvenile in Alabama’s juvenile detention facilities, and anyone serving a sentence after being convicted as a youthful offender, as such sentences only carry a maximum of three years.
6. Release every person fitting the following criteria:
ii. Is under the age of 21 and serving a sentence of 20 years or less
iii. Has served 20 consecutive year or more in prison for a non-capital offense, not involving a child and not a violent sexual predator
iv. Has served 25 years or more for a capital offense
v. Is over the age of 55, has already served 10 years or more, and is especially vulnerable to COVID 19
vi. All individuals already deemed parole-eligible in 2020 and can provide a sufficient home plan, job plan and re-entry plans;
vii. Is currently under deferral after being denied parole over the past 5 years, but was otherwise eligible for parole pending completion of further programming;
viii. Any person currently serving a split-sentence, where the split sentence is for five years or less.
ix. Any person who qualifies for mandatory parole pursuant to Title 15-22-26.2, Code of Alabama 1975, but who hasn’t been released yet.
x. Any person who has already served over 50% of their current sentence.
The failure to act will further expose Alabama taxpayers to civil lawsuits due to the deliberate indifference to human life that would be displayed by a failure to act immediately on the part of Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature.
In addition, Governor Kay Ivey should Order Commissioner Jefferson Dunn to allow all Faith-based Prison Ministries, Civic Organizations, and Volunteers who are already approved to enter into an Alabama prison back into the prison system to assist us by donating, or leading donor drives to receive gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, soap and other protective material recommended by the Alabama Dept. of Public Health and the CDC, in effort to protect and preserve human life as much as possible. Currently, these organizations and people are deemed non-essential, thus their access is being denied. However, anyone following the news in Alabama knows that the Faith communities like Church of the Highlands are, in fact, taking leading roles in combating COVID 19, and are, indeed, essential personnel. To date, those of us incarcerated inside of Alabama prisons and juvenile detention facilities do not have access to such protection, while the corrections and medical staff– who are the ones who will bring the virus into the prisons — have immediate access to these materials.
We implore you, Governor Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, to act swiftly and immediately to all necessary action to reduce our State’s prison population down to no less than design capacity (Alabama’s prisons are currently packed beyond 160% of their design capacity, as a whole, while some prisons exceed 200% or even 300% of design capacity), and to enact legislation abolishing the Habitual Felony Offender Act, which, as this COVID 19 crisis proves, has outlived its purpose and now poses a real and substantial threat to the lives and welfare of thousands of citizens of the State of Alabama.
To continue to employ or incarcerate the above people while the deadly virus spreads through the system would effectively be sentencing too many to death. Moreover, a release of the said people would instantly reduce the ADOC population, thereby meeting the constitutional standard; in effect allowing our humanity to supersede all politics. With the Institute for Health and Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicting that Alabama will have the highest COVID 19 death rate in the U.S., the outcome for those of us left behind in these steel barriers, fences and cages is a foregone conclusion if we don’t act Now !
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
FAM Queen Team Standing In Solidarity
A non-violent and peaceful Civil and Human Rights organization founded inside of the Alabama prison system in 2013.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
P.O. BOX 186
New Market, Ala 35761
(We can be reached inside of the death camps also)
FAM Queen Team
P.O. BOX 404
Decatur, AL 35602
(We can be reached standing in solidarity with our family inside the death camps also)