MONTGOMERY, AL, September 18, 2009—Today, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an Order compelling the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections to comply with Alabama’s Open Records Act in the case of Mary Barksdale v. Richard Allen. The suit, filed in September, 2007 by the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and Huntsville attorneys Jake Watson and Herman Watson Jr, seeks an order requiring Commissioner Richard Allen to produce public records regarding a number of deaths, stabbings and assaults in Alabama prisons. The Alabama Press Association, the Huntsville Times and others news organizations filed an amicus brief in support of the Plaintiffs.
For over two years, the Alabama Department of Corrections has refused to share any information that would explain the chain of events that caused the death of Farron Barksdale. Instead, the Department of Corrections took the position that it could forever shield from public view every document in its possession relating to incidents that occur in Alabama prisons. Even in the event of a homicide, stabbing, assault, or use of excessive force by an officer, members of the public could never see any documentation from the Department of Corrections.
Today, however, the Department must change its Open Records Act policy. The Alabama Supreme Court ordered the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections to comply with Alabama’s Open Records Act in Barksdale. The Court ruled that the Department of Corrections must disclose the records pursuant to the Open Records Act, subject to a right by the Department to redact sensitive information on a case by case basis.
Plaintiffs praised the ruling as a victory for members of the public whose tax dollars fund prisons and who should have the right to assess and consider how these institutions are being run. “The Department’s conduct in this case was in clear violation of the Alabama Open Records Act,” says Sarah Geraghty, Senior Attorney at SCHR who represented the Plaintiffs. “It wrong as a matter of law, wrong from an ethical perspective, and contrary to the ideals of transparency and open of government endorsed by Alabama’s Attorney General.”
This lawsuit was brought in the wake of the unexplained death of 32-year-old Farron Barksdale at Kilby Correctional Facility. On or about August 8, 2007, Mr. Barksdale, who had schizophrenia, was transported from the Limestone County Jail to Kilby Correctional Facility. Prior to this date, Mr. Barksdale was in good physical health. Just days after his arrival at Kilby, Mr. Barksdale was found comatose in his cell. He died ten days later.
In addition to information on Mr. Barksdale’s death, lawyers are also seeking public records regarding an epidemic of violence at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. For over three years, men at Donaldson have reported to the SCHR that stabbings and beatings with knives, ice picks, box cutters, broomstick handles, and other objects have left them with lacerations, ruptured organs, loss of eyesight, partial paralysis, and other physical injuries, as well as psychological trauma. SCHR filed a separate lawsuit this February alleging that Donaldson is overcrowded, understaffed, and that the Department of Corrections has impermissibly tolerated an exceedingly high level of violence at the facility. This lawsuit, Hicks v Hetzel, is set for trial in the summer of 2010.
|Alabama Supreme Court Order for Barksdale v. Allen||1.81 MB|
|SCHR Complaint in Barksdale v. Allen||793.96 KB|