The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently filed a letter of interest in a lawsuit in the Northern District of Alabama related to a lawsuit claiming that the conditions in St. Clair Correctional Facility violate the U.S. Constitution.

The letter reaffirms that, under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials must respond reasonably when they know people in their custody face a substantial risk of serious harm, including harm from other inmates.

"The Constitution requires prison officials to take reasonable steps to protect the people in their custody," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. "We must not allow violence and sexual abuse to run rampant in our prisons and jails. We are committed to securing the constitutional rights of all people, including those who are incarcerated."

The DOJ's letter comes in support of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and ADOC commissioner John Hamm.

The plaintiffs in Duke v. Hamm allege that prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assault are commonplace at St. Clair, also claiming that corrections officers regularly use excessive force against inmates while simultaneously failing to protect inmates from harm.

"People do not lose their constitutional rights behind prison walls," said U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama. "Our office remains committed to ensuring constitutional conditions, including reasonable safety, within Alabama's prisons."

The DOJ inserted itself into the Alabama prison discussion in 2020 when it sued the state, alleging Eighth Amendment violations, among other abuses by the ADOC in Alabama prison facilities.

The legislature responded in 2021 by voting to use federal COVID-19 relief funds, one in Elmore County and the other in Escambia County,

In the following three years, the price for the Elmore facility alone expanded past $1 billion, meaning the state will still have to come up with the extra funds to build the Escambia prison.

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