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Assaults in Alabama prisons increase in 2023 by more than 41%

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new report from the Alabama Department of Corrections reveals that assaults in state prisons increased by more than 41% in 2023 when compared to the previous year, yet another sign of Alabama’s ongoing struggle to manage its prison population of more than 25,000.

The new monthly statistical report from ADOC shows that as of Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, there were 2,073 recorded inmate assaults across Alabama’s correctional facilities, 179 of which occurred in September. This marks a more than 9% increase over August, and a more than 41% increase when compared to the year-to-date figures for September 2022.

Of the 2,073 assaults, 1,578 of them were between inmates, and 495 of them were reported as inmate assaults on prison staff. In September alone, there were 137 assaults between inmates and 42 inmate assaults on prison staff.

For years, Alabama has struggled to manage its ever-growing prison population, with many existing prisons in a state of disrepair. Alabama is currently facing a federal lawsuit over the conditions of its prisons, which the U.S. Justice Department alleges are “riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.”

In its monthly reports, ADOC does not include statistics for guard-on-prisoner violence.

State lawmakers made efforts to address the situation, allocating $400 million’s worth of federal pandemic relief funds in 2022 for the construction of two new prisons, though the costs have since increased dramatically, with just one of the prisons now costing more than $1 billion, and the second prison’s cost still unknown.

Furthermore, ADOC Commissioner John Hamm said that the two new prisons – which together will have 8,000 beds – would not increase the state’s inmate capacity as six existing prisons would subsequently close after the construction of the new prisons.

The cause for Alabama’s rising prison population, which as of September was around 7,000 over design capacity, is mutli-faceted, though Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has routinely pointed to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as playing a significant role.

“One of the few things that has been consistent – other than them not releasing anybody – is them ignoring the (parole release) guidelines,” England previously told Alabama Daily News.

Officially adopted by the Parole Board, those guidelines produce a recommended parole grant rate for any given period of time, based on an inmate scoring formula. Yet despite those guidelines producing a recommended parole grant rate of 80% for the month of August, that month saw the board grant parole at a rate of just 5%.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles’ parole grant rate versus its recommended grant rate from October 2022 to August 2023.

Far from an outlier, the disparity between recommended parole grant rates and actual grant rates has increased since 2019, coinciding with reforms to the Pardons and Parole Bureau that imposed stricter requirements for granting prisoners’ release.

Some state leaders, including Attorney General Steve Marshall, Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, and others, have argued that the vast majority – 83% – of those incarcerated are violent offenders, and thus, not eligible for release on parole. That 83% figure, produced by the Alabama Sentencing Commission, however, has been called into question, as ADOC has instead reported 67.5% of those incarcerated to be violent offenders.

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