FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT (F.A.M.) RESPONDS TO NEW D.O.J. INVESTIGATION: CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mother’s and F.A.M.ilies
P.O. BOX 186
New Market, Al 35761
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT (F.A.M.) is pleased with the news that the U.S. Department of Justice (D.O.J.) will be conducting a statewide investigation into the issues of abuse, violence and safe, secure and sanitary conditions in Alabama’s men’s prisons, even though we believe that the women’s prison should also be revisited. We would like to emphasize that we are looking for an open, transparent and inclusive investigation that will keep the public updated, informed and INVOLVED throughout this process. Alabama prisons are unique in that they are the most overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed prisons in America. Therefore, any solutions to the existing problems will need to be unique and require “outside-of-the-box” thinking as well.
We would also like to see accountability result from this investigation. In 2014, the U.S. D.O.J. released a report on its year long investigation at Tutwiler. In this report, D.O.J. investigators found that the civil rights of these women had been violated for over a 20-year period, and that at least one-third of all of the correctional staff at Tutwiler had engaged in some form of sexual misconduct with the women incarcerated there. Yet, despite these conclusive findings, which included child births and unauthorized abortions by complicit medical staff, not a single person was prosecuted for the violation of a single federal crime.
Some of the questions we have to ask are, what is the purpose of this investigation? Are there federal criminal or civil statutes available where A.D.O.C. officials can be prosecuted and required to pay damages as a result of this investigation if they are found guilty of wrongdoing? Will the D.O.J. prosecute any findings of corruption? Will federal charges be brought against officers who are found to be using excessive force? In instances of death, will negligent D.O.C. officials be prosecuted?
Other questions that have to be asked are, in the ultimate finding of unsanitary and unsafe conditions, what are the proposed solutions? Will the D.O.J. seek to alleviate overcrowding through release programs or more prisons? Will the people incarcerated have a voice and seat at the table towards fashioning solutions (as was done in California in the Askher settlement)? Will family members be allowed to be part of the investigation? Will there be briefing sessions for the public? Will there be on-site inspections where family members, interested organizations and the media will be allowed to attend? Will the investigation into sanitation include water testing, since officers at most prisons are warned to not drink it under any circumstance?
When speaking of transparency, will the D.O.J. move for policy changes that will afford the media open access to Alabama prisons? Finally, will public organizations be factored into the role of oversight and implementation of solutions, such as educational and rehab programs?
We cannot just go into an investigation without some clear understanding of what a solution will look like. We have learned from Tutwiler and all of the frivolous lawsuits filed by Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Center For Human Rights, that oversight is just as important as the settlement itself, and oversight can not be left to the A.D.O.C. under any circumstance.
Governor Bentley has stated that he welcomes the investigation and looks forward to working with the D.O.J. Well, why should the federal government have to come in and investigate matters that fall within his responsibility? If Governor Bentley does not have a Commissioner’s Office that is capable of assessing the rising violence, murders, drugs overdoses, etc. and understands that those issues need investigating and solving, then what is the purpose of having investigators on taxpayer payrolls?
Governor Bentley is looking for a political bailout; he ignored dead bodies and waited for federal intervention so that he can maintain his “tough on crime” stance, while “blaming” the federal government for the needed and costly changes to Alabama’s prison system. But now that the ‘feds’ are here, F.A.M. and the family members of those incarcerated have an opportunity to seek real changes if, indeed, that is what the D.O.J. is here for.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT