A scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice found Alabama’s understaffed prisons to be rife with drugs, weapons and violence.
Facing the threat of a federal lawsuit, Alabama’s Department of Corrections has unveiled a three-year plan to address its shortcomings and improve conditions for inmates and staff.
This comes after the U.S. Department of Justice put Alabama on notice for the unsafe and unconstitutional conditions in its men’s prisons. The Justice Department concluded after its investigation that “an excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse and prisoner deaths occur within Alabama’s prisons on a regular basis.” Between 2015 and 2017, there were 22 homicides.
Overcrowding and understaffing were also highlighted as contributing factors to the overall systemic failures.
Commissioner Jeff Dunn, the head of Alabama’s prison system, says the four strategic areas of change for the correctional system are staffing, infrastructure, programming and culture.
“The dramatic overcrowding that we’ve seen, coupled with the understaffing has created an environment in which our violence rates are too high, and we at times struggled to provide the safety and the security that we expect,” Dunn says. “We’re addressing that in our strategic plan, particularly with our hiring initiatives.”
The department’s plan calls for building more prisons to reduce overcrowding, providing leadership training to senior prison staff, hiring more officers and paying them more.
Work to increase staffing at the prisons began when the Alabama legislature approved a budget on April 9 that included a $40 million increase for the prison system. Gov. Kay Ivey had requested the increase before the DOJ notice came out earlier in the month, according to Al.com.
Of the $40 million, $30 million has been earmarked for hiring 500 additional correctional officers and, according to Al.com, funding a 20% pay increase.
The plan also includes a proposal to build up and increase the number of rehabilitative programs — such as educational and technical training, treatment services and life-skills training.
That’s a significant issue for David Crenshaw, an Alabama inmate who’s been in prison for 26 years.
Crenshaw thinks one reason the prisons have grown so violent is that programs like work crews, recreational sports and mental health classes have been cut.
“[Prisoners] have basically nothing to do, just sitting around with idle time on their hands,” he says. And that, he says, can lead to depression. “When the depression sets in, it always comes out with a violent outcome it seems like.”
Dunn, a former U.S. Air Force colonel, took office in April 2015. He spoke with All Things Considered about the department’s plan for reform.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On cuts to rehabilitative programming
I think, unfortunately, it’s directly linked back to our ability to staff our facilities, because any of the rehabilitative programs that we provide require staff, and we simply have not been able in the last many years to staff these facilities to the levels that we need.
I think the other piece of that is that we have not had the capacity, with respect on the infrastructure side, to have the classrooms that we need, the technology that we need, things like this, to give inmates productive things to do with their time. Our infrastructure simply does not provide for that right now.
On how management culture and staff contribute to violence, drugs
Certainly we recognize that we have, on the negative side, issues. That’s why we initiated several years ago a corruption task force that has as its primary mission to find and investigate and, where indicated, to prosecute staff that are not abiding by our values and sometimes actually breaking the law. We initiated an inspector general process by which we inspect our facilities and one of the things that that process looks at is the culture inside the facility.
On the state’s past decision to keep wardens who were under scrutiny for violence in their prisons
Well, I can’t speak to those decisions [which took place before Dunn became commissioner]. … I’m not disagreeing with you that they’re still working, but I am suggesting that we are instituting new standards for our wardens and if you look, several of those wardens are no longer with us. This is a problem, overall with the department, that’s been in the making for over 30 years, and we are, what we believe to be, taking some very actionable steps towards addressing the problem, and as we get resources applied, then it’ll increase the speed and intensity with which we can address those problems. And we’re attacking them on all fronts.
On whether Alabama’s prison system is too far gone to fix
No. I don’t believe that. I think that we have a leadership team right now that is experienced. … I would not be as committed and continue to serve in this capacity if I felt like it was too far gone. I think we have an actionable road map that we can use. We’ve got support from the legislature. We certainly have support from the executive branch. So all of these partners have come to the table to say, “This is something that if we work hard and roll up our sleeves, we can actually make a positive difference and reform and transform this department.”
Connor Donevan and Emily Kopp produced and edited the audio interview. Wynne Davis adapted it for the Web.
Residents in northeastern Ohio had a shaky start to their day as a 4.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the region on Monday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed.
The earthquake measured 5 kilometers deep and was centered under Lake Erie, just north of Eastlake, Ohio. Officials say there were no immediate reports of injuries. A natural earthquake occurs after stress builds up over time in the crust and eventually grows large enough to fracture the rock.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reports at least 200 earthquakes with epicenters in Ohio have been felt since 1776. Three areas in Ohio appear particularly susceptible to seismic activity – Shelby County and surrounding counties in western Ohio, northeastern Ohio and southeastern Ohio. The northeastern area witnessed more than 100 earthquakes since 1836, many of them under Lake Erie offshore from Lake County.
Although the state is not considered a seismically active zone when compared to others like California where the San Andreas Fault lies, it is not uncommon for earthquakes in Ohio to take place from time to time because of the amount of cracks and faults.
“There are cracks in the Earth all over the world — Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, we all have … slight movements all the time,” David Saja, curator of mineralogy at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History told NPR.
And although ruptures are recorded by seismometers, they are not always recognized by the general public. For example, northeastern Ohio “will experience anywhere below a 3.5 registered quake every couple of months,” Saja said. “That’s just below what the average person would be able to feel.”
He added that a 4.0 magnitude earthquake on the other hand will shake Ohio once every 10 years. An earthquake of this magnitude can be felt indoors by many and outdoors by few during the day, according to USGS. It likely causes light to moderate damage, meaning items knocked from shelves, windows and doors disturbed, to walls making a cracking sound.
The state Department of Transportation took to social media to share shaky footage from its highway cameras.
— Ohio Dept of Transportation (@ODOT_Statewide) June 10, 2019
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 8,900 residents said they felt tremors, most of which were detected in the Cleveland area. John Bellini, a geophysicist with USGS told NPR the excess number of responses received may be linked to the time of day and the fact that the area is highly populated.
“Everybody was awake and out and about so there’s more people who were around to feel it,” Bellini said. “In addition, in the eastern U.S., the vibrations from an earthquake travel a farther distance than they do in say California which has a lot of faults that can absorb some of that energy.”
The northeastern Ohio seismic zone has had “moderately frequent earthquakes” since 1823, with the largest registering at a 4.8 magnitude, according to the USGS.
Tourists visit the Machu Picchu complex, the Inca fortress in the southeastern Andes of Peru in April. The government hopes a new airport will attract more tourists to the ancient site. That draws opposition from conservationists.
Pablo Porciuncula Brune /AFP/Getty Images
Pablo Porciuncula Brune /AFP/Getty Images
After decades of deliberation and planning, the Peruvian government has broken ground on a multi-billion dollar airport expected to connect Machu Picchu, the country’s historical jewel, more easily with the outside world. But conservationists are outraged over the potential impact of a massive, state-of-the-art international facility on the ancient site and surrounding rural communities.
The Inca marvel, designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, was built in the 15th century in the misty peaks of the Peruvian Andes. On average, about a million people a year visit to take in the mountaintop citadel, which remains challenging to reach. Replacing the outdated airport in Cusco, about 75 miles from Machu Picchu, would change that by allowing direct international flights into the heart of Peru’s tourism industry.
Construction on the controversial Chinchero International Airport began earlier this year and bulldozers are clearing the site at the mouth of the Sacred Valley to make way for a gleaming new structure that is expected to become the nation’s second largest and most modern hub, accommodating more than 7 million passengers per year.
Abel Traslaviña, a Peruvian archaeologist and Ph.D. student in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Anthropology, says the airport poses an irreversible threat to the already fragile ruins and surrounding areas.
He is one of nearly 50,000 people, including archaeologists, historians and anthropologists, who have signed an online petition launched by art historian Natalia Majluf, urging President Martín Vizcarra to block plans for the airport and find it a new home.
“The airport planned to be built in Chinchero, Cusco, endangers the conservation of one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the world,” the petition says. “An airport in the surroundings of the Sacred Valley will affect the integrity of a complex Inca landscape and will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanization.”
Traslaviña described the outskirts of Cusco and the picturesque Inca town of Chinchero as an unspoiled landscape. Ancient terraced pastures, dotted by small huts that are occupied by llama herders, stretch between the two districts, he told NPR. The local economy relies almost entirely on tourism, textile production and farming.
“The Royal Road, called Capac Ñan, is not a site, protected by UNESCO but it is like a massive landscape,” Traslaviña said, of the 500-year-old path that has been considered “the grandest engineering achievement of the pre-Hispanic Americas.”
For conservationists, the terraces themselves are archaeologically significant, as are the stepped granite roads that connect them. Opponents also say the new plane routes would lead to low passing flights over Ollantaytambo, which contains another centuries-old Inca city.
According to Traslaviña, technical surveys of the region by the Ministry of Culture, omit the existence of at least four similar roads crossing through the area. It also fails to note nearby lagoons, terraces and wildlife that would be affected by the construction, he said.
But government officials dispute these arguments.
A number of studies and evaluations were conducted over the past 15 years, Vizcarra told reporters. “This is not an improvisation,” he exclaimed, adding, “The Chinchero Airport moves ahead!”
Government officials have assured the public they are approaching the project “with transparency and with the highest quality standards.”
Minister of Transportation Edmer Trujillo said, the process is adhering to construction laws.
They also argue the airport is a necessity that cannot be put off any longer. Hotelier Juan Stoessel, who is also vice president of Cusco’s tourism agency, told El Comercio that the existing airport there is “poorly located within the city, impossible to be expanded and will reach its limit of operations in three or four years.”
Stoessel added that it cannot support future tourist growth.
Traslaviña is baffled by that logic, maintaining that Machu Picchu already teeters on the verge of chaos, overrun by too many tourists. While it was built by the Incas to occupy fewer than 1,000 people at any given time, in 2016 more than 1.4 million people climbed the steps of Machu Picchu.
It has been years since the government increased the number of daily maximum visitors to more than double the number recommended by UNESCO.
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images
Moral and religious objections to providing health care sometimes arise in medicine: A medical assistant might not agree with blood transfusions. A nurse might not want to assist in sex reassignment surgery.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put out a new rule that “implements full and robust enforcement” of existing laws that protect what the administration calls “conscience rights” for health care workers. The rule is set to go into effect on July 22.
As NPR has previously reported, the new rule expands the kinds of workers who are covered by those laws — to include, for example, reception and billing staff. Even though relatively few of these complaints get submitted to HHS each year, this emphasis on religious freedom has been a hallmark of the department under the Trump administration.
Santa Clara County in California is asking a federal judge in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California this week to put the Trump rule on hold while the legal process plays out — San Francisco and the state of California filed separate motions for preliminary injunctions last week.
To succeed in putting a temporary stop on the rule, at least one of the plaintiffs will need to convince a judge that implementing the rule would cause “irreparable harm.”
So what’s the harm of a rule designed to affirm health workers’ right to exclude themselves from providing medical care that they say violates their religious or moral beliefs?
“If the rule goes through as it’s written, patients will die,” says Santa Clara’s county executive Jeff Smith, who is a physician, as well as an attorney, by training.
“We will have a guaranteed situation where a woman has had a complication of an abortion, where she’s bleeding out and needs to have the services of some employee who has moral objections,” Smith predicts. “That patient will die because the employee is not providing the services that are needed.”
Santa Clara has 2 million residents — it is more populous than 14 states, according to 2017 census data. The county runs three hospitals — including a Level 1 trauma center, clinics and pharmacies — all of which rely in part on federal funding to operate.
The issue is not whether employees who have moral objections to providing certain kinds of care should have a way to opt out, according to James Williams, county counsel for Santa Clara. The county already has a policy to deal with that, but it differs from the federal rule in two key ways.
“One: Health care providers need to notify us in advance,” Williams says. “It can’t just be an on-the-fly objection. And that makes sense because, how are you supposed to run a hospital if you don’t know what your staff has a concern about until the actual procedure needs to happen? And second: There’s an exception for dealing with an emergency situation.”
HHS declined to offer comment for this story, because litigation regarding its rule is ongoing. But the department summarized and responded to nearly a quarter-million comments that were submitted during the 60-day public comment period after the rule was first proposed in January 2018.
In response to commenters who raised the emergency issue, the HHS said, that its final rule does not explicitly conflict with federal laws that require health workers to provide emergency treatment for any and all patients.
To this, Santa Clara County counsel Williams responds, “What the [federal] rule doesn’t do is actually say that it doesn’t apply in emergencies.”
If the conscience rule does go into effect, and Santa Clara does not comply with it, the federal funding the county relies on to operate its public health system could be withheld or subject to “funding claw-backs to the extent permitted by law,” according to the HHS rule.
On the other hand, Williams says, if the county attempted to comply with the rule, it would have another problem — figuring out how.
“HHS didn’t explain or consider how this rule would actually be implemented in practice,” Williams says. “The rule kind of suggests that, basically, you need to have extra staffing to accommodate the fact that there may be people who have objections. That would be very costly.”
County officials worry more broadly about the direct impact of the federal rule on patients. In the lawsuit, Santa Clara argues that the rule could delay care, which could, among other things, open the county up to malpractice suits.
And, county officials add, posting notice about the “conscience rights” policy, as the HHS rule instructs, in “a prominent and conspicuous physical location” within hospitals and clinics that receive federal funding, could scare away vulnerable patients — including women seeking abortions or transgender patients.
To this last point, HHS wrote in its rule: “The Department disagrees that a notice of federal conscience and anti-discrimination laws would in any way discourage a patient seeking emergency treatment.”
This is not the first time Santa Clara County has sued the Trump administration — the county also sued over Trump’s attempts to undermine DACA and over the administration’s legal threats against sanctuary cities.
The county has had its eye on the conscience rights issue since the rule was proposed in 2018. When the final rule came down in May 2019, Santa Clara was ready to go.
“We have, as a county, more flexibility to litigate because we have a county Board of Supervisors that’s very supportive of patients’ rights,” says Smith, the county executive. “But every county, every public health system, will have the same concerns.”
Trump administration officials say the federal rule is necessary to protect health workers’ religious freedom. As we’ve reported, Roger Severino, the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, has made the right of health workers to refuse to offer care for religious reasons to some patients his signature issue. In a statement sent to NPR, Severino vowed to “defend the rule vigorously.”
The next step: A judge in U.S. District Court will decide whether any of the California plaintiffs pass the test for preliminary injunctive relief — that if the rule goes into effect, they will suffer “irreparable harm.”
If any or all plaintiffs pass that test, the judge could put the rule on hold while the lawsuits play out. Currently, challenges to the rule in New York and San Francisco are both scheduled for hearings on July 12 — just days before the federal rule is set to go into effect.
Alex Morgan (second right) celebrates after scoring the United States’ 12th goal during the team’s 13-0 win over Thailand Tuesday.
The U.S. Women’s National Team won its first game of the World Cup with the largest margin of victory in FIFA history Tuesday in a wild soccer match against Thailand.
The record-setting night ended at 13-0. No World Cup team, men or women, had ever scored 13 goals before. Alex Morgan scored five. She now ties with Michelle Akers’ previous World Cup record set in 1991.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 11, 2019
“We really just came into the game really wanting to showcase ourselves,” Morgan said after the game, the Associated Press reported. “Every goal matters in this tournament and that’s what we were working on.”
It’s the first of three matches for the U.S. in the tournament’s opening round.
Leyla Hussein and Nimco Ali, co-founders of a nonprofit group that seeks to eliminate female genital mutilation, were honored by Queen Elizabeth II for their work.
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Leyla Hussein had mixed feelings when she found out that Queen Elizabeth II was naming her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her work to eliminate female genital mutilation.
“I had to think hard about whether to accept,” she says, citing the British history of colonialism. But in the end, proud of being British and living in a country that took in her parents as refugees from Somalia, she accepted the honor, along with fellow activist Nimco Ali.
As young girls, both Hussein and Ali underwent female genital mutilation, or FGM, the practice of cutting a young girl’s genitals, typically as a coming-of-age ritual. Across the world, an estimated 200 million women have undergone FGM.
The two women and Sainab Abdi are co-founders of Daughters of Eve, a British nonprofit that “recognizes FGM as gender-based violence,” provides services to victims of FGM and lobbies the government to end the practice in the U.K. and beyond. Based in part on their efforts, last November the U.K. pledged £50 million to help eliminate FGM across Africa.
Last weekend, the queen recognized Ali and Hussein at her annual Birthday Honours Ceremony with the OBE award, presented to individuals who have made contributions to arts and sciences or had distinguished careers in public service or charitable organizations.
NPR, which has interviewed Hussein and Ali in the past, caught up with the two women to find out about their recent work, what this award means to them and what still needs to be done to stop the practice of FGM.
The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations on the award! How did it feel to receive this honor from the queen?
Hussein: To be honest, I’m not the biggest royal fan. I had to put up a statement to be clear I wasn’t. [But] a group of people discussing FGM in a room is always a plus.
Me and Nimco have opposite feelings about it, because she is supportive of the royals and the current government, and I’m critical of the current government. At the same time, this is a democratic country. [Even though] I have an opposing feeling about the current government, I can still be recognized. Colleagues around the world who said anything against the government, their lives would be in danger, it would be catastrophic. My country can still recognize my efforts, which is great.
Ali: It was incredibly humbling. I ended up getting the letter the day before I had to reply. It came to my brother’s house, he said, “oh there’s a letter from the queen and it says you have to reply by Monday morning!” I had to take a picture and email it to them (laughs).
There are other women tackling FGM that have been awarded before us. [The award] just gives more visibility to the campaign, and ultimately it’s raising the conversation, saying we’ve achieved a lot.
We have to raise the bar in the U.K., and we know we need to end FGM, but now we can say, these are the successes we’ve had.
What are some of those successes?
Ali: From a U.K. perspective, there has been incredible legislative change. We lobbied parliament to add FGM to the Children Act, [which criminalizes violence against children]. Now, British girls have more rigorous protection than they ever had. If a child is at risk of FGM, the state can step in and be their guardian.
Hussein: We are talking about it, so that’s a big progress. But we’ve got a lot of work to do. Until there are convictions for FGM practitioners under the U.K.’s child abuse laws], I won’t see any progress.
We’re certainly better than we were ten years ago; it’s important to remember the women before us, who took more backlash than we did. But I’ve been coming out of a 48-hour online trolling because of my OBE [award]. I think someone’s gonna physically harm me, they’re threatening to rape and kill me or hurt my child. I have a panic alarm in the house. It’s crazy. People need to realize we’re taking a huge risk when we do this. It’s scary. I’ve been taking snapshots of messages all day that I send to police. I have a police officer I work with directly, and that shouldn’t be the case.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about FGM?
Hussein: People keep calling it ritual or cultural practice, which minimizes what it actually is. There’s nothing ritual about violating children.
And it’s not [just] an Africa or Asia issue. I was in the U.S. and met white women from Kentucky who’ve had FGM done. Their parents were conservative Christians working in Guinea and thought it would be a great idea to have them mutilated. The idea of controlling women is where it comes from. It’s important to see this as the bigger problem it is.
To any white American, anyone who might not feel connected to this subject, I would say: If you’re someone who understands that women all over the world are oppressed, this is no different.
Some Kenyan groups, like Maasai Sisters, are going to dramatic lengths to protect girls from FGM — like taking them out of their homes and placing them in school. What do you think of these kinds of efforts?
Ali: A lot of the [best] work is coming from grassroots activists, women who are survivors of FGM themselves. In Somaliland, [where I’m from], we’ve been lobbying our president to get legislation, opening up conversation around an issue that’s so taboo.
Change is possible but not inevitable. To get change to happen, it should be led by women survivors.
Every country has its own ways of working. The idea that every FGM-affected community needs the same mechanisms — that’s what NGOs think — is a fallacy.
In the Gambia, there’s an incredible woman named Jaha Dukureh, she’s a Gambian-American [who] ended up chasing down the president to pass legislation against FGM. Soon, she’s holding a summit in Senegal that’s the first survivor-led conference on the issue. Women in Africa are taking charge, and I think we have a duty to deliver the support they need to end FGM in their own community.
Susie Neilson is an intern on NPR’s Science Desk. Find her on Twitter at @susieneilson.