Settlement Will Ban Alabama’s Prison Chain Gangs

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A year after becoming the first state to bring back chain gangs, Alabama has yielded to pressure and permanently banned the practice.

“They realized that chaining them together was inefficient, that it was unsafe,” 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 in Alabama under an agreement reached by lawyers for inmates, state prison officials and Gov. Forrest “Fob” James Jr.

Work crews will continue, and individual inmates may still have their legs chained, 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.

The settlement makes permanent a May 21 Corrections Department decision 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.

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.

After Alabama revived the chain gangs last year, Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin and Iowa all adopted forms of the work crews.