Police officers block Broad Street near the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Police officers block Broad Street near the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Last April, the U.S. Department of Justice said the Alabama prison system is unsafe and unconstitutional.

And recent reform efforts haven’t changed a documented culture of violence and abuse inside the prisons, according to new reporting.

The Montgomery Advertiser interviewed over two dozen people incarcerated inside Alabama prisons.

The consistency of experiences — from prison to prison, from lifers to the newly incarcerated, from young and old, from black and white — paint a chilling portrait of corruption, violence and the disintegration of state institutions purported to correct and rehabilitate.

Just last month, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced the death of three inmates within the span of eight days.

In response to the April Department of Justice report, Governor Kay Ivey released a statement saying the Department of Corrections already acknowledged many of the same areas of concern.

“Governor Ivey’s commitment to working closely with the Legislature to resolve this generational problem will ultimately lead to a 21st Century prison system,” said Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

In this 1A Across America conversation, we talk to a reporter, a lawmaker and an advocate about the state of Alabama prisons and efforts to reform these institutions.

Produced by Avery Kleinman.

1A Across America is funded through a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.

Guests

  • Mary Scott Hodgin Health & science reporter, WBHM; @maryscotthodgin
  • Cam Ward Alabama state senator (R); @SenCamWard
  • Carla Crowder Executive director, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice; @AlaAppleseed
  • Theresa Holmes Mother of Matthew Holmes. Matthew died by suicide at the Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama

Statement From The Alabama Department Of Corrections

“The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) recognizes the magnitude and scope of the long-standing challenges faced by our department and stands optimistic that current actionable solutions to address the challenges are making a sustainable difference.

ADOC’s three-year strategic plan presented in May was the launch of not only a plan, but rather a pressing movement of a strategic transformation that was envisioned prior to the release of the DOJ report in April 2019.  The fresh insight has led to the uplevel of the department’s long-standing processes and procedures, systems, and goals and objectives regarding staffing, rehabilitative programming, infrastructure and culture.

The transformational initiatives that have been implemented include:

  • An effective workforce development campaign that is delivering dozens of qualified correctional officers to our valued staff, in addition to a new salary and bonus structure
  • Amplified rehabilitative programming, and enhanced healthcare and mental healthcare which includes an increase in healthcare staffing
  • Multiple major recurring contraband confiscation operations to remove contraband from our prisons
  • Amplified rehabilitative programming, and enhanced healthcare and mental healthcare which includes an increase in healthcare staffing
  • Numerous initiatives designed to improve conditions and the safety of our inmates and our correctional officers
  • Improvements to the perimeter security of each of our facilities in order to cut off channels through which contraband enters our facilities.
  • Establishment and implementation of recurring efforts to identify and remove items used within our aging facilities – including broken pieces of metal from inmates’ beds – that can be used as weapons
  • Maintaining an anti-corruption campaign which includes a hotline to report

We remain in a difficult position with limited resources, which impacts both the speed and intensity for addressing long-standing issues. An increase in resources will enable ADOC to build on some of the new processes and procedures that have been implemented. Also, additional resources will improve access to alternative and diversionary programs regardless of the offender’s ability to pay for a prison diversion program.

The ADOC’s progress in addressing these complex challenges is a testament to the power of collaboration.   We are grateful for the commitment of stakeholders across the state to this important work and we look forward to continuing these transformational initiatives.  While we are pleased with the progress made this far, we recognize there still is work to be done.”

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