By Julian L. McPhillips
It has become painfully obvious that Alabama’s multiple prison problems, leading to
inmate deaths and a huge correctional officer shortage, are primarily due to its top brass. Commissioner Jefferson Dunn, terribly misguided, is the most to blame and needs to be replaced.
My firm has represented correctional officers of all ranks, from the lowest CO’s up to the top-level Wardens 3, and we have represented many inmates. The DOC’s many wrongful persecutions of its own people are driving away its best and brightest employees. In a recent single year, we were 4 for 4 in successfully defeating criminal charges against officers wrongfully charged, and won many more Personnel Board reinstatements for officers wrongfully fired.
My law partner Joe Guillot and I just represented two wardens falsely accused of deviating from a Commissioner’s Office directive, and wrongfully demoted. What we both overwhelmingly know is that the real problem is systemic, arising out of the Commissioner’s office itself.
Commissioner Dunn, a former colonel in the Air Force, wants to run the prisons as if
they are an army, with military standards. Unlike the retired top brass Dunn has surrounded himself with, most inmates are not Boy Scouts. Some are in prison for life without parole, due to murders. They do not easily fall into line or quickly respond to orders. It is an Ivory tower view for Dunn and his cohorts to treat them otherwise.
The I & I Division of the DOC has quadrupled in size in a short time, and its intelligence officers are often misled by inmates seeking advantage by telling false stories on officers.
Two wardens, with spotless records were recently made “scapegoats” for allegedly not following a directive that itself was recently lifted as being impossible to accomplish at St. Clair Correctional Facility. That facility is where inmates come and go at will due to broken door locks Commissioner Dunn’s office is unable to fix. Moreover, the DOC has known about these locks for years. Further, even if these wardens had committed the infractions they were accused of –
which they did not – the DOC’s Administration Regulation called for a mere reprimand, not a demotion.
One reason for persecuting their own officers is to make Alabama prisons look better to the U.S. Department of Justice, but Dunn’s strategy is counterproductive. It would be an embarrassment for Dunn and Alabama if the feds had to take over. Thus, the DOC curries favor cooperating with federal prosecutions of its own officers.
Alabamians, wake up, before it is too late for too many other inmates and officers stabbed to death, or sexually assaulted, or otherwise maimed for life.
Please write Governor Kay Ivey and tell her we need new, more enlightened and savvy leadership at the DOC. It will take more than just building three new prisons.
Julian L. McPhillips is Senior Partner, President, and Founding Attorney at McPhillips Shinbaum, LLP. Located in Montgomery, Alabama, McPhillips Shinbaum, LLP represents clients throughout the whole state, focusing primarily on Montgomery, Autauga and Elmore counties.
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