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Alabama inmates are all but back to work after a week-long protest of prison conditions saw hundreds of inmates refuse to perform their assigned duties.
The strike came in response to years-long complaints against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).
In 2020, The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state after sending a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey with the results of a 2019 report. The DOJ claimed that Alabama's prison conditions violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.
The suit pointed to the failure of leadership to protect prisoners from inmate-on-inmate violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by staff.
The number of deaths in Alabama is also a matter of controversy.
In its 2020 suit, the DOJ found that Alabama has misrepresented the causes of death and the number of homicides, overdose deaths, and natural deaths in its prisons.
"There are numerous instances where ADOC incident reports classified deaths as due to 'natural' causes when, in actuality, the deaths were likely caused by prisoner-on-prisoner violence," the DOJ report stated. "This is especially concerning given that these incident reports are used for public statistical reporting as required by law."
According to DOJ figures, from 2001 to 2019, the number of deaths by drugs or alcohol grew by 623%, and homicides increased by 267%, compared to an increase of 34% for the total number of deaths during this period.
While natural causes make up the majority of deaths in Alabama prisons, homicide makes up the majority of all others, with suicide the third leading cause.
Thus far, in 2022, there have been at least 13 people killed in Alabama prisons.
In Alabama, 37 incarcerated people reportedly died from violence, suicide or drug-related causes in 2021. There were 25 non-natural deaths in 2020, 27 in 2019 and 22 in 2018.
Alabama ties Maine for third place in homicides per 100,000 inmates, falling behind Oklahoma and South Carolina.
In overall deaths per 100,000, Alabama is in fourth place, falling behind Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Sexual assault also continues to also plague Alabama prisons.
The 2019 DOJ report noted over 600 cases of sexual assault from 2016 through 2018, none of which were intervened upon by corrections officers or staff.
The DOJ claimed ADOC staff had mischaracterized reports of sexual assault, often dismissing the assaults as consensual homosexual activity. The lack of correct and accurate documentation led the DOJ to claim there is "a pattern of undeterred systemic sexual abuse in Alabama's prisons."
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