By JEFF DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections
On Friday, April 3, 2020, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) became aware that an AL.com reporter obtained – through highly unethical means – a proprietary and confidential copy of the ADOC’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), dated April 1, 2020. The version obtained by AL.com was the most recent iteration of ADOC’s Pandemic COOP, which had been developed over a period of weeks in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and is a strategic planning document that continues to be modified as needed.
As Commissioner of the ADOC – the person charged with ensuring the safety, security, and well-being of the Department’s staff and the inmates remanded to our custody – I understand that strong leadership, particularly in times of crisis, necessitates the development of crisis plans that outline worst-case scenarios, which put organizational leadership in a more advantageous position to prevent those issues from manifesting to potential degrees of severity. Federal and state agencies, as well as private entities, conduct this type of responsible planning regularly.
On April 5, 2020, AL.com published an article entitled “Alabama prison system’s COVID-19 plan anticipates widespread infection, deaths, National Guard intervention.” In the article, the reporter outlines sensitive and confidential information contained in our Pandemic COOP, which many of ADOC’s team members have spent countless hours developing to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities. The story attempts to highlight two “worst-case scenarios” that were included in the plan for the purposes of scenario planning as “anticipated” or absolute outcomes, which is simply not the case. The publishing of this information in this manner was irresponsible and represents a lapse in good judgement during a national health emergency.
I do want to address the article’s content publicly – and will do so only once – as to ensure inmates, our correctional staff, and their loved ones have a clear and accurate understanding of my Department’s work and the progress we’ve made toward mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities:
- We have not – nor has any other correctional system in the country – stockpiled critical resources, such as PPE, through the years. Even hospitals are struggling to obtain necessary supplies. With that said, we are working tirelessly to collect sufficient equipment to protect our inmates and staff, and I am proud of our Department’s efforts. Inmates at Holman Correctional Facility and Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have been hard at work producing masks for distribution across our system, and we are partnering with advocacy groups to attain hygiene supplies. The ADOC will continue to pursue innovative solutions to best protect our staff and inmates.
- As with any state agency or healthcare services provider, we must use statistical models like those outlined in our Pandemic COOP to predict what could happen if we do not mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These models ensure we move quickly where we must, prepare where and how we can, and do everything in our power to avoid worst possible outcomes from happening. That is what our team has been working nonstop to achieve, and that is the intended purpose of our COOP and preventative actions. Again, the scenarios in this plan are not absolutes.
In addition to COVID-19 preventative and mitigation efforts underway, my staff also is charged with working to maintain calm and provide reassurance not only to each other, but also to those in our custody who may be fearful. If you are not aware of the numerous preventative measures we’ve already instituted across our correctional system, please take a few minutes to review them on our website. This information will continue to be updated as it becomes available, and we are sharing this information with inmates regularly.
Finally, in the face of an unprecedented national health emergency, I want to express my public gratitude to and admiration for my staff. Every day, these brave individuals continue to show up and do their job in spite of these unusual and challenging conditions, and remain committed to this important work in the face of a global pandemic. Their bravery cannot and will not be discounted, and I am confident that those who work in corrections will go down in history as true heroes who helped maintain order in a time defined by the unknown. Every person who works for the ADOC is an inspiration to me, and I sincerely thank them for all they do and will continue to do. If you have a chance to thank a correctional officer or member of my staff for their heroic efforts during this trying time, please take the opportunity to do so.
Stay well, stay home, and stay hopeful.
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn