On February 18, 1966, a class action lawsuit challenging racial discrimination in Alabama's correctional system was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama against Alabama's Commissioner of Corrections, Board of Corrections, and two defendant classes, defined as all Alabaman sheriffs and all wardens and jailers of city and town jails in Alabama. Five African-American inmates and one white inmate represented the plaintiff class, which purported to represent the interest of incarcerated males and females even though the named plaintiffs were probably all male. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
The parties agreed that Alabama law mandated the racial segregation of inmates, which the plaintiffs claimed was unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants discriminated in hiring for law enforcement and corrections jobs. On the same day that they filed the Complaint, the plaintiffs asked the court to grant a preliminary injunction to stop both the enforcement of laws mandating racial segregation for inmates and discriminatory hiring practices.
On March 21, 1966, a three-judge panel (Judges Frank M. Johnson, Jr., Richard T. Rives, and Seybourn H. Lynne) was convened to hear the constitutional issues, pursuant to the now-obsolete requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2281 et seq. On June 9, 1966, the plaintiffs issued interrogatories to the Commissioner of Corrections, Jefferson County Sheriff, and Birmingham City Jail's Warden. The file contains responses to all interrogatory requests, filed June 14-25, 1966. The various defendants filed Answers to the Complaint from June 14-16, 1966.
On November 21, 1966, the court (Judge Johnson) identified procedural and substantive issues to be briefed and addressed during the trial. Specifically, the defendants challenged the plaintiffs' standing to sustain an action against the Birmingham City Jail, claiming that none of the named plaintiffs were either still confined at or had shown a likelihood of future detention at the jail.
On December 12, 1966, the court (Judge Johnson) held that the plaintiffs should not be required to show the likelihood of being detained at the Birmingham City Jail, reasoning that such a requirement might encourage rather than deter criminal activity. Washington v. Lee, 263 F. Supp. 327 (M.D. Ala. 1966). Ruling on the merits of the case, the court held that the Alabama law mandating racial segregation in prisons violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and ordered the immediate desegregation of state and local penal institutes. The court implemented a two-pronged plan to ensure compliance. First, the counties were required to report the racial composition of inmates and on efforts to desegregate the population every quarter. Second, the Commissioner of Corrections was required to inspect all local jails every three months.
Pending the defendants' appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the district court stayed its judgment on February 15, 1967. The file contains several documents regarding the appellate process, including the Supreme Court's finding of probable jurisdiction. Lee v. Washington, 38 U.S. 928 (1967). On March 11, 1968, the Supreme Court (Justice Hugo L. Black) affirmed, but held that racial segregation could be used by corrections in good faith and when necessary to promote prison security, discipline, and order. Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333 (1968). Following the Supreme Court's opinion, the three-judge panel was dissolved on January 16, 1969. On March 13, 1970, the court closed the case and reduced the frequency of status reports to once a year.
On October 13, 1970, the plaintiffs asked the court to find the State in contempt. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that in 1969, Holman Prison Unit was re-segregated. On April 24, 1973, the defendants moved the court to modify the frequency of mandatory jail and prison monitoring, which the State claimed was inefficient because jails in small communities were often empty when inspected. The plaintiffs were concerned that such a change would be detrimental to desegregation efforts because enforcement would be left in the hands of the inmates themselves.
On August 13, 1975, the plaintiffs asked the court to hold the Commissioner of Corrections in contempt for a second time. The plaintiffs alleged that the Commissioner had not taken the necessary steps to desegregate the State's correctional system, including its educational and vocational programs. On September 12, 1975, the court (Judge Johnson) dismissed the plaintiff's motion for contempt, concluding that the shortage of operating funds made racial segregation temporarily necessary to ensure prison security. The court, however, impressed upon the parties the importance of properly funding corrections programs instead of relying on segregation to make up for deficits.
We have no additional information on this lawsuit.Elizabeth Chilcoat - 06/28/2006