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Prison chief optimistic state will settle, avoid lawsuit

MGN Online

The federal government recently scathed the state of Alabama for its prison conditions.

Posted: Apr 19, 2019 2:34 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Thursday that he is optimistic the state will reach a settlement and avoid a Department of Justice lawsuit over prison violence.

The U.S. Department of Justice this month released a scathing report saying Alabama inmates are housed in violent, unsafe and unconstitutional conditions. Dunn told the Joint Legislative Committee on Prison Oversight that the department is communicating with federal officials and he is optimistic they will reach a settlement agreement.

"We've got to address these issues. I've been saying that for four years, ever since I came into this position," Dunn told reporters after the meeting.

Understaffing was a major concern identified by the Justice Department. Committee members quizzed Dunn on the department's attempt to add staff.

Alabama is attempting to hire 500 officers within a year to comply with a court order in an ongoing prison health care case to add about 2,000 officers by 2020.

A firm hired by the state to develop a staffing plan recommended increasing starting officer trainee pay from about $29,000 to about $37,000.

Legislation introduced this week would give officers a two-step salary increase. State Personnel Director Jackie Graham said the state is also expanding salary ranges and making other administrative changes to increase pay.

Committee members said they wanted to see firm numbers on what pay would be under the proposed changes and how it would compare to the firm's recommendations.

"If we need to hire 500 people, our job is to figure out how to do it," Committee Chairman Cam Ward said.

The firm also recommended creating a new type of officer position, with easier entry requirements, to handle some prison tasks.

Lawmakers pressed Dunn if the state would actually be able to hire 500 officers in one year.

Dunn responded that the salary proposal gives the "best opportunity to achieve that goal."

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is considering a plan to build new prisons. The Alabama Department of Corrections sought "expressions of interest" from companies to build three new prisons and lease them back to the state. Ivey's office said Thursday that five companies responded.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about the pace of the state reaction to the Department of Justice.

Asked if he was satisfied with the department's plan to address the scathing findings, Rep. Chris England, replied that, "Actually, I haven't heard one."

England, a member of the oversight committee, said lawmakers are still waiting to see the department's short-term and long-term plans for addressing the report.

Ward and England said they expect lawmakers to bring their own a series of bills, ranging from prison construction to sentencing changes, to try to improve conditions.

"The Department of Justice wants to see some political will to actually tackle the problem," England said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 255125

Reported Deaths: 5574
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17257180
Hinds16331322
Harrison13567194
Rankin10804212
Jackson10453184
Lee8864141
Madison8314164
Jones6434112
Forrest6009120
Lauderdale5902186
Lowndes5405116
Lafayette499193
Lamar488565
Washington4803124
Bolivar3997109
Oktibbeha395381
Panola372379
Pontotoc367853
Monroe3558105
Warren354898
Union345960
Marshall344066
Neshoba3396152
Pearl River3301100
Leflore3041107
Lincoln298085
Sunflower286671
Hancock274459
Tate273162
Alcorn265453
Itawamba263759
Pike263778
Scott248046
Yazoo247056
Prentiss246552
Tippah243050
Copiah242749
Coahoma241054
Simpson236467
Leake231765
Grenada219471
Covington214672
Marion213073
Adams207070
Wayne202932
Winston201666
George199839
Attala194259
Newton193444
Tishomingo189361
Chickasaw185044
Jasper172736
Holmes168767
Clay159833
Stone144721
Tallahatchie141934
Clarke139862
Calhoun136521
Smith121424
Yalobusha117834
Walthall112336
Noxubee110822
Greene110429
Montgomery109834
Carroll104821
Lawrence102917
Perry102631
Amite98426
Webster92824
Tunica87321
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis85326
Humphreys83124
Benton82023
Kemper77620
Quitman6968
Franklin66715
Choctaw60913
Wilkinson58725
Jefferson54919
Sharkey43117
Issaquena1596
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 426543

Reported Deaths: 6126
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62752920
Mobile30551554
Madison27303186
Tuscaloosa20835267
Montgomery19192305
Shelby18693114
Baldwin16513183
Lee12603101
Morgan12321113
Etowah11805168
Calhoun11206200
Marshall10236107
Houston8681148
Cullman8094105
Limestone807474
Elmore7923101
DeKalb771597
Lauderdale763183
St. Clair7599120
Talladega6224108
Walker5930174
Jackson583741
Colbert535473
Blount532083
Autauga522755
Coffee446256
Dale399781
Franklin368148
Chilton337865
Russell335910
Covington330168
Escambia321342
Dallas305196
Chambers288669
Clarke283133
Tallapoosa2630107
Pike251329
Marion247350
Lawrence245247
Winston229035
Bibb217047
Geneva203335
Marengo200829
Pickens196931
Hale177442
Barbour173836
Fayette171226
Butler170758
Cherokee160930
Henry155021
Monroe147317
Randolph141535
Washington138326
Clay127045
Crenshaw120244
Cleburne118423
Lamar118419
Macon116835
Lowndes111535
Wilcox103621
Bullock99728
Perry98219
Conecuh95120
Sumter89526
Greene76223
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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