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Press Release

Justice Department Files Statement of Interest Reiterating Prison Officials’ Duty to Protect Incarcerated People from Harm

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest last week in a lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama alleging that conditions in an Alabama state prison violate the Constitution. The statement explains that, under the Eighth Amendment, prison officials must respond reasonably when they know people in their custody face a substantial risk of serious harm, including harm from other incarcerated people.

“The Constitution requires prison officials to take reasonable steps to protect the people in their custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We must not allow violence and sexual abuse to run rampant in our prisons and jails. We are committed to securing the constitutional rights of all people, including those who are incarcerated.”

The plaintiffs in Duke v. Hamm allege that prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assault are commonplace at St. Clair Correctional Facility (St. Clair) in Springville, Alabama. They also allege that correctional officers regularly use excessive force on incarcerated people at St. Clair. The plaintiffs contend prison officials know that prisoners at St. Clair face a substantial risk of harm but have failed to take reasonable measures to address this risk, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“People do not lose their constitutional rights behind prison walls,” said U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama. “Our office remains committed to ensuring constitutional conditions, including reasonable safety, within Alabama’s prisons.”

The department’s statement of interest clarifies the appropriate standards under the Eighth Amendment. A high level of violence in a prison puts inmates at a substantial risk of serious harm. The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to respond reasonably to this risk when they become aware of it. The department’s statement notes that when prison officials continue ineffective measures and disregard available alternatives to mitigate the risk of harm, they are not complying with their constitutional requirement to respond reasonably.

For more information on the Civil Rights Division please visit Additional information about the Civil Rights Division’s work regarding correctional facilities is available at

Updated July 8, 2024

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 24-848