September 18, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is violating the Eighth Amendment in their treatment of COVID-19 positive incarcerated people who are being quarantined in the decommissioned Draper Correctional Facility, according to a letter sent today to ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn. The letter demands that ADOC immediately cease using Draper, and instead house individuals in medically appropriate settings. The letter was sent by the ACLU of Alabama, Alabama Appleseed, Southern Center for Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP.  

The letter alleges that ADOC is housing COVID-19 patients from other facilities in the decommissioned Draper Correctional Facility, which closed in 2018 after Department of Justice officials informed ADOC of their shock at the deplorable state of the facility. Portions of the prison were reopened in April, purportedly to house ADOC intake arrivals from county jails. The COVID-19 patients are being quarantined in a former classroom that lacks running water, bathrooms, and showers. The only facilities available are portable toilet and shower units. The letter further alleges: 

  • The men – some of whom are suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 – are often forced to wait hours to use bathrooms; many have had to relieve themselves into Styrofoam cups or plastic bottles. One man was allegedly not taken to a portable toilet until his 3rd day at Draper. There is a similar denial of access to showers.  When they are permitted to shower, the men are often only given minutes at a time, and they are sometimes threatened by officers with mace if they take too long.
  • While at Draper, the men have little to no access to phones, writing materials, or other means of contacting loved ones. They are unable to file grievance forms necessary to report Draper’s inhumane conditions. One patient at Draper sent correspondence scribbled on toilet paper, as he did not have access to traditional writing materials.  
  • ADOC is not providing consistent access to adequate medical care. One COVID-19 patient was sent to a hospital with heart attack symptoms after allegedly not receiving his heart medication for days. Nurses come by just a few times a day to take the men’s temperatures and measure oxygen levels. There is reason to believe that symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore prisons often do not report their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being taken to Draper.  

“While unconstitutional conditions are nothing new in ADOC prisons, we’re in the midst of a public health crisis, and it is unconscionable that Commissioner Dunn is housing sick people this way,” said Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director at the ACLU of Alabama. “It is imperative that Dunn and other state leaders take action now to resolve this urgent crisis, and not delay dealing with this serious problem on the promise of some future construction.” 

“COVID-19 patients taken to Draper live in daily fear of severe illness or death. The fact that they have to beg to use the bathroom or receive medication while fighting for their lives is unconscionable,” says Atteeyah Hollie, Managing Attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights. "ADOC must stop using Draper and move people to medically appropriate facilities, immediately." 

“Draper was an unsafe and unsuitable housing facility three years ago when the Department of Justice pointed out its shock at the state of disrepair, and nothing has changed since then to make it more suitable,” said Carla Crowder, executive director at Alabama Appleseed. “Instead of housing people in this condemned building, we need to see real solutions from ADOC to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, like mass testing and releasing medically vulnerable individuals.” 

“Incarcerated people are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. The decision to house those who test positive for the coronavirus in these deplorable conditions threatens their lives as well as those who come into contact with them,” said Arthur Ago, Director of the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Alabama Department of Corrections should correct this course, release as many of these incarcerated people as possible, and provide all of those remaining in its custody with proper medical attention and care.”

To date, ADOC has reported 401 positive COVID-19 tests and 21 COVID-19-related deaths among people incarcerated in state prisons. Meanwhile, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 1,100 people aged 65 or older incarcerated in ADOC who have a heightened risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.