Alabama’s prisons don’t have working fire alarm systems

Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com) (JULIE BENNETT)
Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com) (JULIE BENNETT)
 By Christopher Harress | charress@al.com article originally posted here

Not one of Alabama’s 15 state prisons has a functional fire alarm system, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, who spoke to lawmakers earlier this week about overcrowding inside state correctional facilities.

“It’s pervasive in our system … that we have deficiencies in our fire alarm systems,” said Dunn. “So what we do, we have corrections officers posted throughout and if there’s an issue, we do it through a verbal system. Obviously, we have procedures if we have a fire to evacuate either portions or all of the facility but the aural fire alarms, we have deficiencies around the state.”

The revelation comes during a trying time for the state’s prisons. The system is at approximately 180 percent of capacity while the number of correctional officers required is dangerously low, according to previous AL.com reporting.

In 2016, Governor Robert Bentley put forth what’s known as the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative (APTI), a plan to build four mega prisons at a cost of $800 million. While the initiative passed through both the House and the Senate, it did not gain final approval. In the coming session this year it’s expected that Bentley will raise the issue again with some amendments to help it pass.

Dunn conceded that other problems did exist in terms of infrastructure and health and safety. “I think the salient point is that (failing fire alarms are) just one of a dozen things that we face,” Dunn said. “While I don’t disagree about the fire system, you’ve got problems with electrical, you’ve got problems with plumbing, you’ve got problems all over that need to be addressed.”

We agree in part with Mr Dunn, however BWC does have a working fire alarm and this issue should not be politicised at this point in time just because he wants to go ahead with Governor Bentley’s $800m no bid contract to build new Supermax facilities.

Seeing as the state Government can’t seem to fix the prison problems in a timely and humane fashion, maybe the Federal Government’s investigation will force their hands. Alabama needs sentencing reform, it needs to spend money on maintaining and enhancing the facilities that it already has, it needs to make being incarcerated more focused on rehabilitation, rather than just punishment, it needs to make conditions in its prisons safe as the federal law dictates that they should be, it needs to make post conviction relief easier and fairer too, creating prosecutorial integrity units would significantly cut down on the amount of wrongful convictions by holding over zealous prosecutors accountable.

When you lock people up and treat them like animals, guess what they are going to be like when they eventually get out?

Many people are serving excessively long prison sentences, imposed by courts such as in Houston and Henry Counties in the south east of Alabama, whom sentence more people to death, than any other county in the U.S despite only having a population of 70,000.

Its also well documented that female inmates commit crimes for very different reasons to male inmates, but this is hardly ever allowed as a mitigating factor in court, despite evidence and Police reports. The population of female inmates, could vastly and safely be reduced, by making it easier to obtain parole and letting them become eligible for consideration sooner.

In the United States, men are much more likely to be incarcerated than women. More than 9 times as many men (5,037,000) as women (581,000) had ever at one time been incarcerated in a State or Federal prison at year end 2001.

In 2014, more than 73% of those arrested in the US were males. Men accounted for 80.4 percent of persons arrested for violent crime and 62.9 percent of those arrested for property crime. In 2011, the United States Department of Justice compiled homicide statistics in the United States between 1980 and 2008. That study showed the following:

Males were convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 90.5% of the total number of offenders.
Young adult black males had the highest homicide conviction rate compared to offenders in other racial and sex categories.
White females of all ages had the lowest conviction rates of any racial or age groups.
Of children under age 5 killed by a parent, the rate for biological father conviction was slightly higher than for biological mothers.
However, of children under 5 killed by someone other than their parent, 80% of the people that were convicted were males.
Victimization rates for both males and females have been relatively stable since 2000.
Males were more likely to be murder victims (76.8%).
Females were most likely to be victims of domestic homicides (63.7%) and sex-related homicides (81.7%)
Males were most likely to be victims of drug-related (90.5%) and gang-related homicides (94.6%).

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