Federal suit could have long-term consequences

Published 3:42 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2020

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By PAUL DEMARCO / Guest Columnist 

Note: This is an opinion column.

Alabama state leaders have been working to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and the resulting economic impact.

Now add a new lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to the mix.

The feds have been threatening the suit for months, but with very little notice to the state, moved forward last week. The lawsuit accuses the prison system of violating the constitutional rights of the inmates. There is no question the state’s corrections system has been the source of controversy for decades, but the governor has been working diligently on a plan which would add three new prisons to the state to alleviate overcrowding.

The state said it has been negotiating in good faith to resolve the issues when the complaint was filed.

Attorney General Steve Marshall has promised to vigorously fight the suit. The attorney general and the corrections system should strongly push back if the DOJ wants to force the state to release prisoners that could be a danger to the public. In addition, what is being demanded could potentially cost millions of dollars to the state’s general fund to the detriment of other vital Alabama agencies and programs.

The state should administer prisons in a manner that does not violate inmate’s constitutional rights, but punishing those who break Alabama state laws and endanger its citizens should not be restricted by the DOJ or a judge at their behest.

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