FILE - Prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama, June 18, 2015.
FILE - Prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama, June 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday accused Alabama’s state prisons of violating male inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from violence and sexual abuse.

In a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, prosecutors and the country’s top civil rights law enforcement official said they had evidence the state was violating prisoners’ Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

They ordered the prison system to correct the problems within 49 days or the state could face a federal civil rights lawsuit.

“We have reasonable cause to believe that Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in the Alabama’s prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. attorneys for the southern, northern and middle districts of Alabama.

The department said it first initiated its investigation in October 2016, at the tail end of the Obama administration, and before Jeff Sessions, who is from Alabama, became the attorney general under President Donald Trump in early 2017.

The Alabama governor acknowledged the Justice Department’s findings and said the state’s Department of Corrections had been actively working to fix the issues.

The department “has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time,” Ivey said in a statement on her website.

“Over the coming months, my administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety.”