Madison County Commission Chairman calls out ADOC, ADOC Commissioner blames COVID-19 and federal court order

Madison County Commission Chairman frustrated with ADOC, ADOC Commissioner blames COVID-19

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said the Alabama Department of Corrections is taking advantage of Madison County citizens and it’s costing money.

“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of expense to the taxpayers of Madison County,” Strong said.

As of early January, Strong said there were 985 inmates in the Madison County Jail. Under state guidelines, any inmate convicted and sentenced must be transferred out of a county jail and into a state prison within 30 days of their sentencing. Strong says that isn’t happening. He told us about 190 of those 985 inmates should be in state prisons right now, but they’re not. They are still in the Madison County Jail. Strong called this is a failure on the state level.

“We’re having to put additional corrections officers to work, we’re having to fund medical expenses for inmates that should be in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections and were having to manage COVID,” Strong said.

All of those extra expenses added up to $400,000 dollars annually, according to a letter Strong sent to ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn in early December. In the letter, Strong expresses his grievances with the holdup in transferring inmates.

Nearly a month later in early January, Strong got a reply from Dunn and ADOC officials who said COVID-19 and related policies are to blame.

My request for an on-camera interview with an ADOC official was not accepted, but a spokesperson did provide a statement in response to Strong’s concerns.

The statement said ADOC officials have had to make significant changes to intake because of COVID-19 safety protocols.

“To ensure the safety of both staff and inmates, the Department is unable to accept new intakes (i.e., the next intake cohort) for a period of 14 – 20 days following the notification of a positive COVID-19 test result among the current intake cohort. The 14 – 20 day timeframe ensures that the intake cohort in question can be quarantined for the CDC-recommended time frame, and that the ADOC has time to properly sanitize the respective quarantine intake facility prior to the arrival of the next cohort.” said ADOC Spokesperson Samantha Rose in the statement.

Strong said he saw this coming.

“They’re going to say it’s a COVID hold up, but we’re not having a COVID hold up here in Madison county” he said. “If someone does a crime or is a threat to society and they are charged with a crime, we’re taking care of it.”

Strong said the state is paying Madison County for inmates who are in the county jail past their 30 days, but the money they’re getting isn’t enough and Strong said they want solutions.

“We’re having to pick up the slack for the State of Alabama and we’re being paid very poorly to do that and we’re tired of picking up the slack,” he said.

Strong said the country prefers solutions over money.

“We don’t want to be compensated, we want the State of Alabama to take these prisoners,” Strong said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to insure that there isn’t a COVID issue.”

In the ADOC letter to Strong, Commissioner Dunn does say there are plans to increase inmate intake in 2021.

“The ADOC plans to increase its intake percentage by 50% beginning in early 2021, and to further increase intake as expeditiously as COVID-19 safety protocols permit,” Dunn said.

Along with his concerns over slow inmate intake, Strong said he also has issues with where the imamates have to go for the intake process.

Madison County Commission Chair wants changes to ADOC intake process

”There are multiple tiers to this solution,” Strong said. “Number one, have more intake facilities in the State of Alabama.”

Right now, Strong said deputies are taking inmates a few at a time every few days down to Kilby Correctional in Montgomery County.

“To make the local government haul one and two prisoners at a time 205 miles is unacceptable,” he said.

Strong said this makes no sense, especially when Limestone County Correctional is just one county over.

“We’re 16.5 miles from Limestone Correctional Facility, it would only make sense to have a North intake, a Central intake and a South intake,” he said.

Strong said this option saves both sides time and money.

In his letter to Dunn, Strong asked about the possibility of processing inmates at Limestone County Correctional Facility.

But, Dunn said that’s not possible, citing specific evaluations that need to happen on intake of a prisoner.

“During intake, the ADOC conducts specific physical and mental health screenings and evaluations on inmates. The ADOC and its health/mental health vendor have limited staff at the intake facility who can conduct these assessments within a specified period of time. Accordingly, intake at Limestone is not a feasible option,” Dunn said in the letter.

In the statement ADOC Spokesperson Samantha Rose sent to WAFF, she gave the same reasoning.

Strong called the reasoning unacceptable and said he wants to work with ADOC to find a solution. Strong said these are issues across the state, not just in Madison County. He’s hoping some solutions can come from lawmakers in Montgomery.

“This has gone on long enough, if it’s a solution a year from now, that does better than we’re doing today, my concern is we’ve heard no better solutions,” Strong said. “We’ve heard nothing more this is a situation statewide and what I am hoping to do is get the attention of ADOC and what I’m asking them to do is solve this problem and stop putting a band aid on a hemorrhage.”

Strong said this is far from a new issue and he’s worried it will just get even worse if changes are not made soon.

The letter from Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong to ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn, the return letter from Dunn and the statement to WAFF from ADOC Spokesperson Samantha Rose are all below.

Letter from Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn sent on Dec. 10, 2020:

Dear Commissioner Dunn,

Thank you for your service to the State of Alabama as the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) since 2015. Throughout Alabama and the country, we are all facing criminal justice challenges and a growing population of inmates, and your efforts to strengthen the ADOC are appreciated.

I want to request your immediate attention to solve a problem currently crippling Madison County, Alabama. As I know you are aware, the 23rd Judicial Circuit representing Madison County hears the highest caseload per judge in the State of Alabama. Furthermore, the Madison County Commission Currently funds the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) $138,356.36 for staffing expenses for a retired judge hearing cases five (5) days a week.

The ADOC has failed to meet its statutory requirement to transfer inmates from the Madison County Jail to a state facility within the thirty (30) days after sentencing. Today, 146 ADOC inmates remain in the Madison County Jail of which 93 have been awaiting intake by ADOC for more than 100 days. Madison County has, and continues, to pay incarceration expenses for these inmates including housing, feeding, and medical expenses, along with pending lawsuits that - by Alabama state law - should be in the custody of ADOC. This failure represent a systemic breakdown of the ADOC placing an undue financial burden on Madison County of more than $400,000 annually, and climbing, in expenses to house these inmates.

The current procedure for the transport of inmates from Madison County to Kilby Correctional Facility does not contemplate the expense to Madison County in transporting a minimal number of inmates at a given time. Specifically, transporting one or 2 inmates at a time to ADOC custody demonstrates a lack of understanding in the fiscal burden assumed by Madison County to transport a prisoner 205 miles, one-way, only to turn around a day or two later and transport one or 2 more inmates. A visionary, more fiscally responsible alternative would be to allow Limestone Correctional Facility - 16.5 miles from the Madison County Jail - to process the intake of inmates. This change in procedure would save financial costs for every county in north Alabama and make common sense.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience with a definitive plan to transport these sentenced State of Alabama inmates from the Madison County Jail. I trust this issue can be resolved immediately.

Sincerely,

Dale W. Strong

Chairman

Madison County Commission

Letter from Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn to Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sent on Jan. 7, 2021:

Dear Chairman Strong,

I am in receipt of your letter regarding state inmates currently housed in the Madison County Jail and requesting that the Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) allow Madison County inmates to report to Limestone Correctional Facility (“Limestone”) for intake processing. Due to the rapidly changing climate of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department has made significant changes to the way we approach the intake process. We continue to seek the support and cooperation of the Sheriffs and county jails in the implementation of these changes, and we continue to review and refine our processes with the goal of resuming our pre-COVID-19 intake process.

In response to your request, I asked that Deputy Commissioner Jeff Williams and Associate Commissioner Ruth Naglich review the feasibility of your request for intake at Limestone. The ADOC is under strict intake guidelines pursuant to a federal court order. During intake, the ADOC conducts specific physical and mental health screenings and evaluations on inmates. The ADOC and its health/mental health vendor have limited staff at the intake facility who can conduct these assessments within a specified period of time. Accordingly, intake at Limestone is not a feasible option.

The ADOC, however, is engaged in active efforts to increase the scope of its inmate intake, while maintaining appropriate COVID-19 protocols and recommended protections to minimize the spread of the virus. Pursuant to these plans, the ADOC plans to increase its intake percentage by fifty (50%) percent beginning in early 2021, and to further increase intake as expeditiously as COVID-19 safety protocols permit. As the pandemic continues, much of the success of increasing its intake percentage depends on the continued cooperation of the Sheriffs and counties in maintaining protocols that mitigate against the virus and in not transferring COVID-19 positive inmates into the ADOC.

The ADOC sincerely appreciates the significant challenges faced by Madison County and other county jails as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to work with Sheriffs and county jails to develop solutions. If you have any questions please reach out to Deputy Commissioner Jeffery Williams.

Sincerely,

Jefferson S. Dunn

Commissioner

Statement from ADOC Spokesperson Samantha Rose to WAFF:

Hey Eric,

Thank you for your inquiry, and apologies for our delayed response.

On April 16, the ADOC announced a pilot program to resume intake via modified processes at Draper QIF (male) and Tutwiler Quarantine Intake Facility (female). Beginning the week of April 20, new intakes were accepted on a two to three-week schedule from county jails in cohorts consisting of approximately 100 males and 20 females. Governor Kay Ivey’s June 9 emergency proclamation recognized this process and memorialized the Department’s continuing work to develop and implement revised inmate-intake procedures appropriate to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

On July 9, the ADOC announced expanded testing protocols to include the testing of all inmates upon intake.

Please review ADOC’s COVID-19 updates dated April 16 and July 9 for more information related to both of these announcements. They can be found here: http://www.doc.alabama.gov/COVID19NewsFeed

To ensure the safety of both staff and inmates, the Department is unable to accept new intakes (i.e., the next intake cohort) for a period of 14 – 20 days following the notification of a positive COVID-19 test result among the current intake cohort. The 14 – 20 day timeframe ensures that the intake cohort in question can be quarantined for the CDC-recommended time frame, and that the ADOC has time to properly sanitize the respective quarantine intake facility prior to the arrival of the next cohort.

In order to comply with the CDC recommendations in such instances, the pre-determined schedule for intake must be revised to accommodate the quarantine periods.

As we indicated to Commissioner Strong in our recent letter, of which you have a copy, the ADOC is under strict intake guidelines pursuant to a federal court order. During intake, the ADOC conducts specific physical and mental health screenings and evaluations on inmates. The ADOC and its health/mental health vendor have limited staff at the intake facility who can conduct these assessments within a required period of time. Accordingly, intake at Limestone Correctional Facility is not a feasible option.

We continue to work with county jails around the state to facilitate the safe intake of inmates into our system.

Thank you,

Samantha Rose

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