In April, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of a years-long investigation into Alabama’s beleaguered prison system. The revelations shouldn’t have come as a surprise to state officials, who have avoided addressing growing problems in the system for years. However, the findings were jarring to many Alabamians who first learned the depth and breadth of the problems when a New York Times report laid out many instances of prison rape, murder, and other atrocities within the walls of the state’s correctional institutes.
The Justice Department report put state prison officials on notice – unless concerns were satisfactorily addressed within 49 days, the federal government could sue the state.
That deadline passed in mid-May, which likely explains the corrections system’s ballyhooed “sweeps,” in which more than 300 law enforcement officers combed three state prisons looking for weapons, drugs and other contraband.
This week, the officers of the joint operation converged on Bibb County Correctional facility, which houses more than 1,800 inmates. Within a few hours, officers had recovered narcotic suboxone, the synthetic drug flakka, cell phones and 37 makeshift weapons. Previous sweeps were made at two other state prisons.
While these efforts are laudable, they’re only the tip of the iceberg of changes that are long overdue in the state prison system. If state officials are serious about transforming our corrections system into something other than the dangerous cesspool it’s become, they must make it one of our state’s top priorities.