It’s funny how a series of articles that are only somewhat related can pretty much establish a pattern. In this case, they cast Alabama, that land of rugged adherence to
the Confederacy traditional values, as a state that’s just fine with lawlessness.
Let’s start with their prison system:
For a female inmate, there are few places worse than the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
Corrections officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years, according to an unfolding Justice Department investigation. More than a third of the employees have had sex with prisoners, which is sometimes the only currency for basics like toilet paper and tampons.
But Tutwiler, whose conditions are so bad that the federal government says they are most likely unconstitutional, is only one in a series of troubled prisons in a state system that has the second-highest number of inmates per capita in the nation.
Now, as Alabama faces federal intervention and as the Legislature is weighing its spending choices for the coming year, it remains an open question whether the recent reports on Tutwiler are enough to prompt reform.
“Yes, we need to rectify the crimes that happened at Tutwiler, but going forward it’s a bigger problem than just Tutwiler,” said State Senator Cam Ward, a Republican from Alabaster who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’re dealing with a box of dynamite.”
Gee, ya think?
And speaking of prisons, a certain Alabama blogger who has dared to expose allegations of criminal wrongdoing by members of the state’s plutocracy (funny how so many of them are Republicans) remains behind bars, and you don’t exactly need a law degree from Harvard to conclude that a federal ruling provides a strong argument that he’s being held illegally:
A Virginia woman took to the internet in 2012 to voice her displeasure with a contractor who had done repair work on her townhouse. That lead to the most recent first amendment case that proves Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler is unlawfully incarcerated.
Dietz v. Perez holds that a preliminary injunction in an alleged defamation case is an unlawful prior restraint under the first amendment. It’s the most recent national case to make that finding adding to the roughly 230 years of U.S. law on the subject.
Jane Perez heaped criticism on Dietz contractors after she felt that they botched the home repair job. She went onto consumer sites Yelp and Angie’s List to state her criticism, and Dietz responded by suing her and asking a judge to force her to remove critical comments. The judge refused to grant a full injunction, but he did force Perez to remove comments about two issues. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling and said that Perez could not be forced to remove the comments.
Tell that to Claud Neilson, the highly suspect judge who threw Shuler in jail – and the thug sheriff’s deputy who assaulted and beat up Shuler without a warrant. Unlawful prior restraint? It’s OK if you’re in Alabama.
Which brings us to one terrific way to keep a state lawless: don’t fund prisons and fer crikeysakes don’t fund enforcement:
House Ways and Means General Fund committee chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, responded to the crisis in the Alabama prison system by denying any increase in their funding in this year’s budget. “We’re not adding anything to the prisons here,” Clouse said about his budget proposal. The department received a funding boost last year, in part to fund security improvements aimed at curbing abuse. Additional investigations into the system including allegations of physical or sexual abuse have also been leveled at three men’s prisons. This may mean that the ADOC could fall to federally mandated takeover from Washington D.C. like it did from 1976 to 1989. In September 2013, Alabama’s in-house prison population consisted of 25,340 inmates living in facilities designed for 13,318, nearly double the designed total capacity. That month’s statistics also showed a 12 to 1 inmate-to-correctional officer ratio – one of the highest in the country. No surprise that inmates regularly slip away from their overworked guards.
Oddly enough, another state agency is being left out in the cold in Clouse’ proposed funding plan; the state Attorney General’s office had their $7 million appropriation completely zeroed out in the General Fund budget proposal. The Attorney General is a constitutional officer who provides legal representation for the state of Alabama, its officers, departments, and agencies. In addition to defending the state, the Attorney General may initiate court action, both civil and criminal, to protect the state’s interests or to enforce state law. The Attorney General represents the state in all criminal actions in the appellate courts of the State of Alabama and in habeas corpus proceedings in the federal courts. He has the authority to superintend and direct the prosecution of any state criminal case. In a statement, Attorney General Luther Strange said he hoped “it was a mistake.”
Law, shmaw! But then, that’s what Alabamans have come to expect.