Rape. Murder. Drug possession. Drug manufacturing. Drug trafficking. Assault. Weapons possession. Extortion. Menacing. Armed robbery.
These are the crimes that can land you in a prison, but in Alabama, these are the crimes that happen on a daily basis in the state’s numerous prisons, according to a recent report by the United States Justice Department.
While similar crimes may happen in other prisons; this article focuses on what has been discovered over the course of three years in 13 men’s prisons throughout Alabama.
The shocking findings from a lengthy investigation has prompted the Justice Department to threaten to sue the state of Alabama for violating the Constitutional rights of the men housed in the state’s prison system. No women’s prisons were included in this particular study, but that’s not to say there are not problems in those institutions.
Justice Department Takes Action against Alabama Prisons
On April 3, 2019, the United States Department of Justice informed Alabama Governor Kay Ivey that the state “routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners” by failing to protect them from violence and sexual abuse (in addition to numerous other crimes). After being alerted to widespread violence and crime in the prisons, the Justice Department started an investigation in October of 2016. The highlights of what the investigation uncovered include:
- Seriously injured, stabbed, bleeding inmates must walk or crawl to find staff elsewhere in the prison, or they must bang on the dormitory door to get the attention of correctional officers. This may take minutes, hours, or days, and by the time they’re helped, it’s often too late.
- Correctional officers have not been reached in time to help prisoners who have been tied up, beaten, sexually assaulted, and stabbed by other prisoners.
- Prisoners often travel to unauthorized areas undetected, or, if they are detected, nothing is done to protect the inmates that are targeted by the unauthorized prisoners.
- Some inmates sleep in areas outside their cell and dormitory to escape nighttime violence.
- Prisoners often extort other prisoners and their family. One inmate’s mother was sent text messages with pictures of her son’s genitals and messages threatening to chop her son into little pieces if a certain amount of money was not paid.
The report notes the Constitutional violations suffered by Alabama inmates are “systemic” and “severe,” and are caused, in part, by understaffing issues, overcrowding, inexperienced staffing, ineffective management, improper/inadequate training of staff, and the inability to stop the flow of drugs into the prisons.
Bloody Week in September 2017
One week in September 2017 was especially violent according to the Justice Department’s findings:
- On Sunday of that week, a prisoner at one facility awoke with two men beating him with a sock filled with metal locks; at another facility, an inmate was stabbed by two others; a prisoner at another location threatened a correctional officer with a 7-inch knife; at yet another location, an inmate reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow inmate.
- From Tuesday to Thursday of that same week, one prisoner set fire to another prisoner while he was sleeping; one inmate was sexually assaulted by four others, and it was not the first time this happened to him.
One even more disturbing fact regarding all of this is that the investigators can only report on the incidents that were officially documented. Think about the countless incidents that go unreported out of fear of retaliation.
The numbers of incidents in the report are also lower than the actual numbers because of how events are documented by the prison system. For example, The Justice Department’s report noted that Alabama’s Department of Corrections reported 24 homicides in its facilities between January 2015 and June 2018, but federal investigators found three other deaths weren’t properly documented as homicides. In one glaring example, it was noted that an inmate died of multiple stab wounds to the head, back, arm, and abdomen, but an incident report classified his death as “natural.”
During site visits to the 13 prisons included in the report, investigators also found disgusting conditions including “makeshift showers, leaking urinals, broken toilets and other serious structural issues.” One additional facility, which was closed one month after the investigation started, had open sewage running through a main pathway in plain sight of many inmates who slept not far away from the path of feces, urine, and other waste from the prison’s sewage system.
In addition to firsthand examination of Alabama prisons, the investigators gathered information from in-person interviews with more than 270 prisoners and more than 500 phone interviews with prisoners and their families.
You can read the full DOJ report on the atrocities in Alabama’s prisons here.