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Justice Department files statement of interest in Alabama prison lawsuit

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  — The U.S. Department of Justice, which sued Alabama over prison conditions, filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit by prisoners who said they are subjected to unconstitutional levels of violence and excessive force.

The Justice Department officials filed the statement last week in a 2014 lawsuit filed by inmates at St. Clair Correctional Facility. Justice Department officials said Alabama’s request for summary judgment should be rejected if there is a genuine dispute over the accusations because, “these allegations, if proven, establish Eighth Amendment violations.”

“The Constitution requires prison officials to take reasonable steps to protect the people in their custody,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “We must not allow violence and sexual abuse to run rampant in our prisons and jails. We are committed to securing the constitutional rights of all people, including those who are incarcerated.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections will file a response later this month.

A group of inmates housed at St. Clair Correctional Facility filed a federal lawsuit in 2014 alleging the Alabama Department of Corrections has failed to address a pattern of excessive force, prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assault at the prison. The maximum-security prison houses about 1,000 male inmates

The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit in 2020 against the state of Alabama accusing state officials of failing to protect male prisoners across the state from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has disputed the allegations in both cases.

St. Clair’s conditions will likely come up at Legislative Prison Oversight Committee on July 24 at the State House.

At the first such hearing in December, families of incarcerated Alabamians shared testimonies of violence within prisons, as well as their struggles with getting up-to-date information on the condition of their loved ones who, in many cases, they learned were injured from another inmate.

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