On this dayDec 15, 2016

Alabama Spends $1.5 Million Fighting Prison Conditions Lawsuit

On December 15, 2016, Birmingham television station WBRC-Fox 6 reported that the state of Alabama had spent more than $1.5 million on legal fees to defend against a lawsuit calling for the Department of Corrections to address inhumane conditions in a state prison. The lawsuit, filed by the Equal Justice Initiative in October 2014, alleged that poor leadership, mismanagement, and corruption had allowed the development of dangerous conditions at St. Clair Correctional Facility, posing a risk to both prisoners and corrections officers.

For several years prior to initiating the suit, EJI attorneys met with prison officials to detail major problems at the maximum security facility, including: widespread malfunctioning locks; lack of staff supervision and oversight within the facility; prevalent and readily availability knives and other dangerous weapons; and, as a result of theseconditions, frequent violence such as stabbings and sexual assaults. In the face of indifference and inaction by Alabama leaders, violence at St. Clair prison escalated. EJI then sought intervention in federal court, in hopes that litigation would push the department to rectify the serious crisis.

Although the state legislature initially approved only a $500,000 expenditure to defend against the lawsuit, that figure more than tripled as the case continued and state officials refused to address plaintiffs’ concerns. “We've offered to resolve these issues without litigation for years and whatever you're spending on attorneys fees is money that you didn't have to spend if you're prepared to recognize these issues,” EJI Director Bryan Stevenson explained when the defense costs were reported in 2015. “These dollars, I would rather see go into programming, better services for the incarcerated, better pay for correctional officers, and better support for the people who are providing services to this population.”

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The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

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