Settlement Bans Alabama Chain Gangs
Jun. 20, 1996
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A year after becoming the first state to bring back chain gangs, Alabama has yielded to pressure to end the practice.
``They realized that chaining them together was inefficient, that it was unsafe and they ended the practice,'' said attorney Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose lawsuit challenged chain gangs as cruel punishment.
The shackling of five inmates together with leg irons as they work on roadside cleanup will be banned permanently in Alabama under an agreement reached by lawyers for inmates, state prison officials and Gov. Fob James.
Work crews will continue, and individual inmates may still have their legs chained together, but they will not be attached to anyone else.
A joint statement filed Wednesday in federal court must be approved by U.S. Magistrate Vanzetta McPherson. State inmates would then have 30 days to raise any objections before a final decision is reached.
The governor's spokesman, Alfred Sawyer, said the administration fully supports the new policy, but he declined further comment.
The settlement makes permanent a May 21 decision by the Department of Corrections to quit chaining inmates together. That move was prompted by security problems: a guard fatally shot an inmate who attacked a fellow chain-gang member after being unchained to get back on the prison bus.
Shackling inmates individually ``allows more productive and efficient management of inmates, with increased safety and security,'' the statement said.
Former Corrections Commissioner Ron Jones, who crusaded for the reintroduction of chain gangs, was demoted to warden of a state prison last month after he announced plans to put women in chain gangs as well, which James refused to allow.
Cohen said he felt Jones' demotion helped clear the way for a new chain-gang policy.
Jones said he didn't care how the chain gangs were managed so long as the program itself was retained.
``How you do it is just a matter of technique,'' he said.
After Alabama revived the chain gangs last year, Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin and Iowa all adopted forms of the leg-ironed work crews.
Some other issues in the lawsuit remain unresolved. They include the prison system's refusal to let chain-gang inmates have visitors, a lack of sanitary toilet facilities for the road crews and chaining inmates to an iron bar or ``hitching post'' if they refuse to work.