Gov. Kay Ivey has directed the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to develop a plan for addressing thousands of state inmates being held in county jails due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The directive was part of a broader state of emergency proclamation Ivey issued Tuesday intended to address the spread of COVID-19 in ADOC facilities as well as concerns from county officials and sheriffs over the reduced number of inmate transfers ADOC has accepted since March.
In addition to calling for a plan, the proclamation ensures counties reimbursement for the additional costs incurred housing and providing medical care to state inmates. It also provides liability protections for counties, sheriffs and their employees against claims arising out of those additional responsibilities.
Ivey encouraged ADOC to return the intake of new prisoners to “to pre-COVID-19 levels” as soon as possible under the circumstances, though she did not establish any kind of timeline. Those intakes have dropped drastically since ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn suspended them in late March as part of the agency’s plan to prevent widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 in state correctional facilities.
As of June 10, 83 employees throughout the state system have tested positive COVID-19 as well as 27 inmates — two of whom have died. While ADOC has accepted some prisoner transfers since March 20, many inmates are still being held in county jails which are also working prevent the spread of COVID-19
In a response to Ivey’s proclamation Tuesday, Sonny Brassfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA), issued a statement saying the governor’s words brought attention to “a crisis that has been flying under the radar for the past 75 days.”
“The 3,000 state inmates in county jails today represent about 12 percent of the state’s total inmate population. We agree that backlogging inmates at the county level is unacceptable,” Brassfield wrote. “The presence of so many state inmates clearly puts every jail at risk of an outbreak of COVID-19, in the same way the state prison system is at risk. Sheriffs in Alabama have done a remarkable job of adjusting to the new safety concerns in the face of the state’s decision not to accept inmates as required by Alabama law and the Alabama Supreme Court.”
In response to Ivey’s order and the comments from ACCA leadership, ADOC released the following statement:
“Maintaining the safety, security, and well-being of our inmate population, staff, and the public remains the ADOC’s highest priority, which is why it was absolutely necessary to modify our intake process to align with prevailing medical standards and to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities. While the modified intake process has created nuanced challenges for both our Department and the county jails, we are confident this important safety measure was an important step for our Department to take. We appreciate the cooperation of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, Alabama Sheriffs Association, and county jails, and we greatly appreciate Governor Ivey leading the way by working with both parties to identify a solution, as outlined in her proclamation. The ADOC looks forward to working with all parties in good faith, as well as resuming inmate intake rates to pre-COVID levels as soon as it is safe to do so.”
As Lagniappe has reported, the backlog of state prisoner transfers has caused problems for officials at Mobile County Metro Jail as they’ve dealt with a local outbreak of COVID-19. With limited spacing, the additional inmates have complicated efforts to isolate and quarantine those who may be sick or infected.
At last count, more than 50 Metro jail inmates and 30 corrections officers had tested positive for COVID-19. Warden Trey Oliver said the number of cases increased after the city of Mobile offered to help screen all Metro employees last month, but the level of current active cases has been declining.
This afternoon, Oliver reported there is a total of 265 state inmates currently held at Metro, who would have normally been transferred to ADOC custody. He said some incarcerated for probation violations have already served more than their scheduled sentence due to the state’s backlog.
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