Federal judge has bad news for Alabama’s prison system
A Montgomery federal judge spoke his mind on the level of staffing in Alabama’s troubled prison system. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said, despite a court order, Alabama prisons remain critically understaffed. The number of officers working in state lockups dropped to the lowest point in years despite a court order to increase numbers. Court filings show that the prison system has lost more than five hundred security staff employees over the last 18 months. Judge Thompson said Friday the state cannot continue with what he called horrendous staff levels. In 2017, Thompson found that mental health care in Alabama prisons is so inadequate that it violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He said understaffing is one of the root issues. In 2017, Thompson found that mental health care in Alabama prisons is so inadequate that it violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He said understaffing is one of the root issues and ordered the state to increase the number of corrections officers.
A lawyer for the state argued the state has used pay raises and recruitment efforts to boost officer numbers but has been hindered by a tight labor market. Thompson asked the two sides to compare current staffing levels to what they were in 2014 when the case was filed. Between 2019 and 2021, the state added more than 1,000 security staffers through recruitment and retention efforts that included pay raises and bonuses, according to Lunsford. Lawyers for Alabama wrote in a court filing that prisons had the equivalent of 1,392 correctional staff members on Sept. 30, 2022, after losing 528 correctional staff since April 1, 2021.
While lawyers for inmates argued the current staffing numbers are a record low, state attorneys argued in a court filing that it is difficult to compare 2022 and 2017 numbers because of changes in prison operations.