Costly fight to resolve problems with Alabama’s corrections system

Published 6:59 pm Monday, August 10, 2020

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By PAUL DeMARCO | Guest Columnist

Note: This is an opinion column.

As is most states, Alabama is suffering under the weight of the pandemic and the ensuing high unemployment it has brought.

Because of the weak economy brought on by the coronavirus, the state revenue has taken a sharp hit.

Thus, the last thing Alabama needed was another crisis to add to the list, but here we are now.

This past week the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice released the findings of an investigation, and declared Alabama’s Department of Corrections unconstitutional and now threatens to sue the state.

The threat was paired with an offer to resolve the case by consent decree, basically a settlement that would put the state at the mercy of the DOJ, a Federal Judge and a court appointed monitor who would mandate how Alabama would have to run its corrections system and would have no accountability to the citizens of Alabama.

What’s odd is that Attorney General Steve Marshall had been working in good faith and openness and as a partner with DOJ to resolve the corrections problems. Yet the DOJ chose to move forward with a confrontational approach that serves no one’s interest.

General Marshall has made it clear he would have none of that and would not agree to a consent decree that would drag on for decades, cost the state millions of dollars and take control of the state’s prison system from Alabama leaders.

General Marshall has rightly insisted that a memorandum of understanding is more appropriate than a costly consent decree.

Gov. Kay Ivey has also been working in good faith with legislators and the Alabama Department of Corrections on resolving the chronic issues with the corrections system.

The state has made dramatic improvements in some areas, including Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for women. Progress has also been made toward increased funding for more prison guards and the governor’s proposal to build three new prisons to reduce overcrowding.

Through the years the state has spent countless dollars on consent decrees that took decades to resolve. Alabama cannot afford another one and should fight any efforts to do so, especially where the state is making progress to resolve these issues.  

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.