How to fix the Alabama Department Of Corrections

I have read with great eagerness the coverage given to exposing the conditions within Alabama Department Of Corrections and by exploring ways of improving conditions within Alabama’s prisons and reducing the prison population overall. But then I would, I have a biased view, my wife is currently incarcerated in ADOC and has been for 11 years. We know how the ADOC works, I can only speak of that which I know and have experienced first hand, so my focus lies with the female population incarcerated within Alabama Department Of Corrections.

Ironically it seems to matter not, how serious a crime you are charged with committing, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, unless you or your family are financially secure, or are well connected with the old boy network, you have little to no chance of a fair trial, and if you happen to be female, the problem is even more acute. The issues are very complex and multi faceted and a lot of people have a vested interest financially and politically to keep things ticking over just as they are. I will raise the negative aspects first and then follow on with our suggestions on how to fix ADOC, ADOJ and the prison over population problem.

Firstly, as in my wife’s case the District Attorney and prosecutors will seek the most severe charges, and therefor the maximum penalties. They will withhold evidence, prevent witnesses at trial in order to weaken your case and strengthen theirs against you. Instead of a manslaughter charge, they will push for a murder charge. Instead of 10-15 years, you’ll be looking at life, possibly without the possibility of parole.

District Attorney’s, prosecutors and even judges should not be above the law. They should not be allowed to blatantly manipulate the law. They should not present unreliable evidence nor should they be allowed to get away with professional misconduct. They should present all evidence; they should uphold the constitutional rights of the accused and treat them as innocent until proven guilty. They should lay charges as per the crime, not try to convict for murder for example in a blatant manslaughter case in an effort to get another “Murder Conviction” notch on a belt, or another political gong to show just how “tough on crime” they are.

It should be easier for a defendant to have their case reviewed independently. Many papers filed by defendants are not even read in court unless presented by a lawyer, so the poor are immediately at a disadvantage and have little chance of a successful appeal.

“You have the right to remain silent. You have to right to an attorney…If you cannot afford one, one will be provided for you at no cost to you…” We cannot honestly say that they are all very poor at what they do, but in our case the appointed lawyer argued a defense that isn’t a legal argument in Alabama. In addition a death row inmate in Alabama is only allowed $1000 in legal aid. Alabama defendants that are dependent on Public Defenders, facing sentences of up to life without parole are represented by lawyers whose total compensation is limited by statute to $1500 – $3500 per case. This predictably leads to deeply flawed representation and doubts about the reliability and fairness of verdicts and sentences. Not all poor defense problems are compensation related alone; indeed attorneys might be managing a high volume of cases or lacking in training in certain areas of law, or unable to obtain expert witnesses thereby failing to provide adequate assistance. Once someone is wrongly convicted, sentenced and in prison they have to navigate a complex set of procedures in order for a state or federal review of their claims or evidence, all within a specific timeframe, as well as being up to date with the changing rules of litigation, no attorney or counsel and a prison law library that’s woefully inadequate and out of date.

Were you aware that women are given harsher sentences than men for similar crimes? Courses that are run in certain prisons, which both female and male inmates may attend, male inmates will get time off of their sentences for successfully completing the course, but females are not given any credit or time off their sentences. Male inmates are allowed better clothing and footwear, which is denied to females. Why do they discriminate against females?
My wife is incarcerated with so called “violent offenders” many of whom, I have had close contact with, that I have helped, encouraged and in fact I would go so far as to say that several have become what I would consider friends. I treat them as i expect to be treated myself, nothing else, they are the very women that are less likely to ever re-offend, but they are treated harsher as they make up the violent offender statistics that politicians use to tout for favour.

Many of the women that have been there a long time are there as a result of committing an impulsive crime in the heat of the moment, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, many had suffered long term abuse and unintentionally lashed out, many of them had never been in trouble with the law before, but they are then branded as violent offenders and treated with stricter custody conditions, harsher sentences even though a female is far less likely to commit a “violent crime” such as armed robbery or rape than a male.

The law, manipulated by the DA’s, the prosecutors and judges take none of the emotional aspects into consideration. They have no sympathy or compassion especially for women that may have been victims of domestic violence and abuse, that lash out in self defence and then the prison and jail system robs them of every ounce of self-respect that they had left. Many attempt suicide and suffer with mental illness.
As the public is now becoming aware, getting adequate medical care within Alabama Department Of Corrections is difficult to say the least, they provide only the barest minimum of care, often flouting constitutional rights.

The long timers like my wife will have taken many courses, indeed she has successfully completed 37, ranging from Substance Abuse Programs to Anger Management Classes and relationship counseling. Many of the courses run for between 6-8 weeks. Most of the long timers have learned and now know enough to be able to teach these classes themselves, yet they are given no credit for it.

When a long timer becomes eligible for parole there are several more obstacles to negotiate before release. Firstly, inmates are not allowed to attend their own parole hearing and their representatives if any, but usually family are given 3 minutes to state their case as to why they should be considered for parole and release. Secondly in some cases, victims support groups pro-actively seek out witnesses in order to object to parole being granted, then finally you have the Attorney General Luther Strange who proudly advertises on his official website the following:

“Being the victim of a crime – especially a violent crime – is one of the hardest and most distressing experiences anyone will ever face. As Attorney General, I have made it a priority to assist victims during this time of need. Since 2011, the Attorney General’s Office of Victim Assistance (AGOVA) has filed 7,720 protest letters against pardons and paroles of violent offenders. AGOVA has also assisted 2,886 victims at hearings. Over the last three years the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has only granted relief to five inmates where my office protested on behalf of crime victims. My office is absolutely committed to protecting the rights of Alabama’s crime victims.”

I wasn’t able to determine how many are female inmates in the above statement.
Forgive me, but I naively thought that if given a fair trial and then convicted by your peers and then sentenced to a period of incarceration, that the loss of your liberty was your punishment? ADOC should not continually punish inmates every day of their incarceration or have the odds stacked against them ever being released, especially when they have served their sentences.
It seems to me that politically, the Attorney General and others, use the above statement as a tool to make it appear that they are tough on crime, especially “violent crime” but this is nonsensical as I have previously mentioned females are far less likely to have committed a pre-meditated violent crime in the first place, it also takes away the notion of rehabilitation and undermines the legal system and seems to me to be another form of cruel and unusual punishment of an inmate that has served their sentence.

Then there are other types of inmate, these tend to be younger, use drugs, steal, burglarize, prostitute themselves etc. they will re-offend, time after time, they come to prison and in many cases these types of inmates are not even incarcerated long enough for them to be able to enroll in the afore mentioned courses. I believe the state receives money from Federal government every time one of these types of inmates re-enters the prison system.

Call me cynical, but its money-spinner and another way of ADOC raising funds from inmates. ADOC makes a lot of money off the backs of inmates; it’s a very lucrative business with a captive and cheap labor force. Below is ADOC’s expenditure for 2013. Note it does not include data from Alabama Correctional Industries.

Alabama Department Of Corrections Expenditures
Alabama Department Of Corrections Expenditures

Alabama Correctional Industries, state on their website that, ACI utilizes inmate labor to produce goods and services that are sold to governmental entities within the State. The revenues generated go to offset the costs of incarceration and provide inmates with job skills and practical work experience that facilitates a successful re-entry into society upon their release.

Alabama Department Of Corrections Revenues
Alabama Department Of Corrections Revenues

Alabama Correctional Industries exist primarily for the purpose of providing a work-training program for inmates of the Department of Corrections. Our secondary and equally important purpose is to assist all state departments, institutions, and political sub-divisions of the state in securing their requirements to the extent that we are able to supply them.
ACI employs approximately 100 “free-world” staff and 700 inmates. We offer more than 500 products, custom items, and services.

Interestingly, ACI also sponsors the Alabama Jail Association.
I was unable to ascertain how much this level of sponsorship costs.

Alabama Correctional Industries Sponsors
Alabama Correctional Industries Sponsors

Additionally, as a family member of anybody that is incarcerated will be able to testify, the extent of the extortionate fees levied by the companies that handle inmate deposit accounts and telephony or other communication equipment. I wasn’t able to ascertain just how much money is extracted from families in this manner, or how much ADOC and the jails take as a percentage.

Global Tel Link, GTL or Connect Network, and ICSolutions for example handle pre-paid accounts for Telephone calls, inmate deposit accounts used for commissary accounts etc. that charge $4.75 every time you make a deposit or top up a pre-paid telephone account, ADOC receives approximately 56%. Homewav, the web visitation system that allows inmates to login and then have an online “visit” with their loved ones, charge $37 per hour of which they give ADOC 40%.
These so called services cut off frequently and randomly, automatically deducting funds, as “Connection Fees” from your account and often the supplied equipment is not fit for service. Not forgetting that prison and jail canteens are often overpriced with a markup of at least 75% in some cases, even picture tickets are on average $6, for one photograph, taken on a digital camera.

My question is why is all of this money filtered away from Alabama Department Of Corrections and nothing seemingly given back to where it’s acutely needed? Clearly they don’t spend the money on improving conditions, medical care, cameras for security or on improving the facilities or so the question remains, why are not at least some these funds used to pay for additional rehabilitative courses and programs, and improvements like the drug rehabilitation programs which are funded by the federal government and not ADOC anyway?

They do not advertise how much but GTL alone donates to the following associations as per their website, Note the Keywords: Corrections Market:
As a leader in inmate telecommunications and offender management for the corrections market, GTL takes its involvement in the corrections community very seriously. We support correctional industry organizations with monetary contributions and participation in various law enforcement and industry-related fundraising events. GTL participates as a corporate member in the three largest law enforcement associations in the country.
1. National Sheriffs’ Association (Corporate Member)
2. American Correctional Association (Corporate Member)
3. American Jail Association (Corporate Member)
4. Alabama Sheriff’s Association
5. Arizona Detention Association
6. Arkansas Sheriff’s Association
7. California Sheriffs’ Association
8. Correctional Peace Officer’s Foundation
9. Corrections Technology Association
10. County Sheriff’s of Colorado Association
11. Florida Sheriffs Association
12. Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches
13. Georgia Sheriffs’ Association
14. Idaho Sheriffs’ Association
15. Illinois Sheriffs’ Association
16. Iowa Sheriff’s Association
17. Kansas Sheriff’s Association
18. Kansas Jail Association
19. Louisiana Sheriff’s Association (LSA)
20. Michigan Sheriffs’ Association
21. Minnesota Corrections Association
22. Minnesota West Central Jail Administrators Association
23. Mississippi Sheriff’s Association
24. Missouri Corrections Association
25. Missouri Sheriffs’ Association
26. Montana Sheriffs Association
27. Nebraska Sheriffs Association
28. New Jersey Jail Wardens Association
29. New Mexico Association of Counties (NMAC)
30. New Mexico County Judges Association
31. New York Sheriff’s Association
32. Oklahoma Corrections Association
33. Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association
34. Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association
35. Sheriffs’ Association of Texas (SAT)
36. South Dakota Sheriff’s and Jail Association
37. Southern States Correctional Association
38. Texas County Judges Association
39. Texas Jail Association (TJA)
40. Texas Chief Deputies Association
41. Utah Sheriffs’ Association
42. Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs
43. Western States Sheriff’s Association
44. West Virginia Regional Jail Association
45. Wisconsin Sheriffs Association
Additional Community Support GTL is also a proud sponsor of the Correctional Peace Officer’s Foundation. This foundation is a national non-profit charity that has as its primary mission to preserve and support the surviving families of correctional officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. GTL is an active participant with the Law Enforcement Torch Run. For example in Virginia GTL has helped sponsor the Virginia Law Enforcement Torch Run through donations to the Virginia DOCs Zume–A-Lube golf tournament and Riverside Regional Jail’s Torch Run campaign. In addition, GTL supports The National Association of State Technology Directors (NASTD), a member-driven organization whose purpose is to advance and promote the effective use of information technology and services to improve the operation of state government. NASTD represents information technology professionals from the 50 states, divided into four regions and the private sector.
GTL is a Gold Star Sponsor of the Alabama Jail Association.
I was unable to ascertain how much this level of sponsorship costs.

Global Tel Link Sponsorship
Global Tel Link Sponsorship

Incarceration is not only expensive in financial terms, it is tremendously destabilizing for the families and communities left behind. Mass incarceration contributes to the intergenerational cycles of poverty and incarceration that devastates many families and communities. The over crowding and abuse is now well documented within Alabama Department Of Corrections prisons, what is not so widely known is the inhumane conditions that inmates are subjected to in County Jails. Please don’t misunderstand me, prison and jail is not meant to be an enjoyable experience but it should neither violate human rights, constitutional rights, the law or common decency. In Houston County Jail, in Dothan AL, for example the following conditions exist:

• Segregation/confinement for an indeterminate amount of time, used as a veiled threat or in retaliation for complaining about conditions or for being considered insubordinate or for even questioning officers about or requesting information
• Showering/bathing conditions of female inmates in-particular in front of male officers through transparent curtains/cubicles, despite the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s standards for Prisons and Jails
• Female inmates are physically checked by Jail Guards to prove that they are menstruating, before being issued sanitary towels or tampons. This degrading and inhumane treatment is in direct contradiction of PREA Laws
• Fear and intimidation used as a method of control when enquiring about or trying to follow grievance procedures, especially for Alabama Department Of Corrections inmates
• Forcibly made to have hair cuts, despite it being in compliance with ADOC rules and regulations
• Unsanitary toilets that flush only once every 30 minutes, that are used by 20-30 inmates, and are frequently full of blood, dirty tampons/sanitary towels, faeces and urine, clearly an issue for the Centre for Disease Control and a serious risk to health
• Basic needs are not met such as eating utensils or bowls, not even toilet paper is issued, inmates have to buy their own, many do not have the means to purchase it themselves or they simply do not have family or friends that they can call on that are able to put money on their accounts in order to buy these basic items, therefore drink cartons and meal trays are often used instead of the disgusting toilet facilities, this too is clearly an issue for the Centre for Disease Control and a serious risk to health
• Phone calls from the Houston County Jail costs $0.47.5 per minute with a one off service fee of $4.75 anytime you add money to an inmates account, plus taxes
• Alabama Department Of Corrections inmates are often collected weeks in advance before court hearings, they are collected at the end of the week and generally spend the weekend in confinement without access to a telephone etc. due to them “not being booked in” and held in docket. They are often made to sit upon cold concrete from 4am till 7pm as the seating matts are removed for unknown reasons. Surprisingly when eventually processed in on the following Monday morning they will show as being booked in on the preceding weekday of arrival, their photograph and information will then appear on the jails website, so clearly something is going on with the booking in process that leaves inmates in no uncertain terms as to what they can expect to be treated like, whilst at HCJ starting with segregation.
• Excessively harsh use of restraints or the application of them, causing severe bruising on both fore arms and legs is common
• Alabama Department Of Corrections inmates are often in a shockingly deteriorated state physically and mentally by the time they are removed from HCJ back to their respective prisons
• The denial of access to appropriately qualified health care personnel, in a timely manner, for example the mental health personnel only visit HCJ once per month
• The denial of access to telephony equipment for the deaf/hard of hearing whilst at HCJ
• Inmates are given 1 sanitary wipe, with which they are expected to clean their cells with
• Commissary accounts that are in credit are not refunded when an inmate leaves HCJ and no explanation is given of what happens to the balance
• Denial of religious materials until you have been held for a certain amount of time
• The only hot water available for drinking is by collection from the shower and there are no appliances for heating or preparing meals that are purchased from the canteen

The conditions in Houston County Jail are in stark contrast to the mission statement of the Alabama Jail Association of which Houston County Jail is a partner/supporter.

Alabama Jail Association Sponsorship
Alabama Jail Association Sponsorship

There are approximately 2,500 female inmates and approximately 30,000 male inmates in the custody of ADOC. From the financial figures above and given the appalling conditions in prisons and jails can someone please explain to me where all of this money goes, as I do not believe in contrast to the former commissioner Kim Thomas’ 2013 annual report stating that it costs $42 daily per inmate.

Anybody that believes that, needs to go and visit someone in prison, see how they live, in dangerously overcrowded conditions, see the quality and quantity of food that they are given to eat, see what they are given to wear, see what healthcare or recreational facilities they get, see what they are issued in terms of hygiene products, especially for women.
They have literally divided the total cost of the ADOC budget and rounded it down per inmate; I would like to see the true costs per inmate per day not the grossly exaggerated and misleading costs that they portray to the public.

Personally I am having a hard time in understanding the huge costs to the state and tax payers, I find the levels of corporate back scratching and sponsorship a concern, and we have only barely scratched the surface.

I feel as though a huge swathe of departments, agencies and associations are earning millions of dollars at the expense of those that are incarcerated and they have a vested interest in keeping them there as long as possible, they are all taking from the system and very little if anything is ever given back. ADOC is a very profitable business, it has been operating as such for decades.

The paranoia fed to the public serves only to create a fear of crime, violent crime, recidivism rates, immigration, and all the other excuses that are dreamt up serve only to dupe the public into believing that they have the publics interest at heart, that somehow Alabama and its towns and cities are such dangerous places, with such hideous and undesirable people that we need them, that they are punishing the criminals and doing a grand job of it and the more they do to justify themselves, the less the public seem to believe that they are doing it, and have been for decades.

Are we advocating an open door policy? Absolutely not! Do some inmates deserve to stay behind bars? Absolutely Yes! Some offenders have committed such heinous crimes that they need to stay where they are, but there are many more that don’t, too many have blatantly unreliable verdicts and sentences.

So how can we fix this?

I find it ironic that the United States tries to impose liberty and justice for all, in far flung corners of the globe, arguably one of the most “civilized” nations on our planet? Yet most members of the public are not aware of the conditions that inmates are incarcerated in and how the legal system works here in Alabama, unless they are unfortunate enough to have a loved one or a friend fall foul of the law. I was shocked at first and then disgusted, to discover what goes on behind prison gates once an inmate gets there and it’s a no brainer, major changes need to happen. The following would immediately relieve the over crowding issues and alleviate future financial burdens to the taxpayer.

• Increase financial aid to defendants, give fair trials
➢ Make the appeals process easier, reassess unsound convictions and sentences and remove the barriers that make it difficult to do so
• Halt mandatory minimum sentencing
➢ Stop handing out excessive sentences for all but the most heinous crimes.
• Stop charging and sentencing co-defendants as if they were the main perpetrator.
• Re-classify, parole or release female inmates especially those classed as “violent offenders” that acted in self-defense or acted impulsively, and that have served a significant amount of their sentences and who have an excellent institutional record.
➢ Give automatic parole hearings for nonviolent offenders of a certain age that have served a significant amount of their sentence.
• Stop treating corrections as a business, for profit.
• Cap and then use the funds generated from telecoms, commissary, canteens etc. to fund the building of residential units on site where spouses and children can spend perhaps one weekend a month with their incarcerated loved one, therefor enforcing and preserving the family unit. Increase visitation times and frequency.
• Give inmates incentives to better themselves, give them hope, and educate them. Give them the tools to make a positive change in their lives, instead of the current oppressive negativity.
• Increase the amount of parole and probation officers and community based programs.
• Examine the awarding of healthcare contracts and determine their effectiveness and value for money.
• Prosecute abusive Police, Prosecutorial and Correctional Officers and those guilty of misconduct.
➢ Have a tougher vetting process for prospective Correctional Officers; and train them to a higher standard.
• Employ more Correctional Officers, The $20.8 million spent on overtime in 2013 came after a four-year period in which the department averaged $13.8 million in overtime.
• Increase the drug treatment and awareness programs
• Increase the time that drug offenders actually spend in prison. More often than not, they just get processed through the receiving department, have their medicals examinations done etc. then they are released straight back into society. If they stayed slightly longer and attended then successfully completed the Substance Abuse Programs prior to release, then with the support of a half way house or other community support, maybe they wouldn’t get into the vicious cycle of re-offending.

Top 10 Convictions of Alabama Inmates
Top 10 Convictions of Alabama Inmates

I don’t believe it’s the budget that is the problem; it’s the Justice and prison systems and how they are run that is the main issue.
Alabama’s prison population has increased 840 percent since 1977, faster than almost any other state, yet the state’s population has only risen 23 percent in the past 30 years. The prisons were built to hold 14,000 inmates, as already stated they now hold in excess of 32,500.
Alabama Department Of Corrections spends the least of any state in the country on medical care for inmates.
Alabama’s prisons have the highest inmate to correctional officer ratio in the country.

Unsafe prison conditions have given rise to lawsuits in which courts have found that crowding in state and local facilities is “barbaric.” And whereby ADOC has then paid tens of millions of dollars in compensation and its own lawyer’s fees.

Surely Alabama Department Of Corrections now recognizes that it would be have been far cheaper and the right thing to do ethically to have treated these inmates correctly in the first place? The question still remains though as to why are we incarcerating Alabama citizens at such an alarming rate? I understand that people who break the law must face consequences; I just don’t believe that locking people up in overcrowded and abhorrent conditions best punishes crimes.
If you treat people worse than animals whilst incarcerated, why would any reasonable person expect them to behave any differently once they are released?
This “tough on crime” mentality unjustly creates resentment, hate and fear and it is bankrupting our state, and does nothing to prevent future crime from occurring.

Within the United States, Alabama ties for the fourth highest imprisonment rate for women, behind Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma. We need to end this inequality and harsher punishment of female offenders. We need fair and reliable trials, convictions and sentencing.

Incidentally Alabama has the highest rate in the US for sentencing people to death, yet also has the highest exoneration rate, after unjustly locking people up for decades…

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

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