Set Our Women Free!

Set Our Women Free!
Set Our Women Free!

Over the last 5 or 6 years we’ve seen Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioners, come and go, we’ve seen State Governors come and go, we’ve seen a lurch towards the extreme political & evangelical right challenging long standing laws protected under Federal law, we’ve seen lawsuits filed by the SPLC, EJI & ADA gain traction in the Federal court, with Judge Myron Thompson ruling that ADOC must immediately hire hundreds of extra correctional officers and improve the mental health care for inmates, we’ve heard Gov. Kay Ivey claim that she will fix the prison system by appointing a management team and building huge new prisons at a cost of approximately $1 Billion to private companies, and then lease them back at a cost of approximately $80 Million per year to us the taxpayers.

The state also hired an attorney that exasperated many during the inaugural meeting of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, when the attorney representing the state denied that state prisons are overcrowded, you really couldn’t make this up, and oh the taxpayers are paying him too.

Prison overcrowding is well-documented by the Alabama Department of Corrections as well as the United States Department of Justice investigations that threaten a prison takeover unless changes are made swiftly. At the December 4th 2019 Study meeting, many friends and family members of those incarcerated were there as well as members of the ACLU, and Alabamians for fair justice, that were allowed to address the panel and tell their stories of how there loved ones have been over charged, over sentenced, by over zealous prosecutors and judges and then warehoused in these hell hole prisons, to try and survive being raped, extorted, pimped out, beaten, stabbed and in many cases now, even murdered.

Jefferson Dunn, The current Commissioner of ADOC who incidentally had no prior correctional experience before being appointed as the head of the Alabama Department of Corrections, looked out of his depth and uncomfortable at the statements of these people that were relaying what they and their loved ones have endured during their incarceration, and he lacked cognitive responses to their questions. The retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons seemed completely out of touch with reality when he asked one speaker if she was saying that Alabama prisons have a drug problem, to which literally every person in the room physically gasped or shouted are you serious? He then asked, well then how do the drugs get into the prisons, to which he was told the officers are the ones that take them in, along with phones and other contraband that they make hundreds of dollars on, by selling them to inmates.

ADOC has not been able to retain or recruit enough officers, indeed they have now resorted to training a new class of officers that do not have the full training or authority as that of a fully qualified corrections officer, these are known as “Basic” correctional officers.

Gov. Kay Ivey has appointed a retired and somewhat notorious Judge as head of the Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles and as such the rate at which eligible inmates are now paroled is at an all time low, compounding the fact that the already dangerously over-crowded prisons, will continue to see the prison population grow.

When do any of these people ever go into a prison? What exactly are we paying them for? Why has Jefferson Dunn never gone unannounced to any of the facilities that he is responsible for, to see how they really work? Its no good, him or any of the other commissioners going there on a scheduled tour like in the women’s facilities, where the women will have been made to paint the walls, clean everywhere and sit on their beds out of site whilst the commissioner strides around and is then never seen or heard of again? Why have none of the commissioners ever rolled their sleeves up and really gotten to grips with what is going on within the prisons and attempted to remedy the situation?

We are sick and tired of seeing our loved ones continually punished by the system. The “punishment” imposed by the court, is the loss of liberty, it did not state that they would be subject to abuse of every kind, demeaned, degraded and dehumanised and treated worse than second class citizens, it didn’t state that us family members would be humiliated by officers, discriminated against or would have the huge cost of phone calls and video visitation thrust upon us in an effort to maintain critical contact with our loved ones, or the heavy cost of commissary prices and hygiene or food packages. As women, they are often sentenced harsher and actually serve more time than a man would if convicted of the same crime. The hypocrisy is breathtaking where in Alabama, justice treats the rich and guilty better than they do the poor and innocent. Our public officials that are supposed to serve us, for too long have used their belief systems to sway political opinion and claim some moral righteousness to hand out Biblical justice, an eye for an eye right? Many people feel the same until they have a loved one that becomes involved in the system, then they see how Alabama justice really works.

The powers that be, want their transgressions and sins overlooked, all the way up to the highest levels of power in the land, they want to be forgiven and given a second chance, but they don’t want to extend the same courtesy to our loved ones that are sat behind bars. They will spend millions of dollars filing politically charged and frivolous lawsuits pretending to protect Alabamians rights, when in fact as shown in the Federal courts, they are not protecting our rights so much as they are pushing their beliefs and agenda upon us, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that ADOC receives per year from the Federal government and numerous other revenue sources, but they haven’t spent anything on maintaining the facilities, or on making improvements that may benefit the inmates, so where exactly has the money been going?

Their idea of justice is my idea of a one sided dog and pony nightmare where prosecutors can lie, withhold evidence, commit all kinds of ethics violations and even in the case of the 20th judicial district, according to a study by the EJI, put more people on death row than the states of Maryland, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado combined, even though it had a population of less than 100,000 at the time of writing, and no one in the Government thought to question why? No one stopped to wonder if maybe something is wrong in Houston County, or maybe they just have the worst population in the state? No one apart from the Equal Justice Initiative apparently took the time to measure the impact that this kind of “justice” would have long-term on the prison population. How many other counties operate the same way? Those prosecutors and judges won’t be held personally liable for any wrongdoings, but a poor defendant that can’t afford effective counsel, most certainly will be.

The Alabama criminal justice system needs complete reform.

Look i digress, my point has been that back in 2003 Tim Roche studied and then compiled a report which showed how the ADOC could safely release literally hundreds of women from ADOC’s work release facilities, even those branded with the political term “violent offender” which is extremely misleading, the report and recommendations are just as relevant today as they were back then, in my opinion the measures are even more desperately needed now.

Taking note of Mr Roche’s now 17 year old recommendations makes complete sense and it is truly baffling to try and understand why the ADOC would not use their discretion to move these hundreds of women through the system and allow them back into the community. Even the so called “violent offenders” are some of the most trusted, and hard working women that have been incarcerated for 10-15 years or more, often these women went into the criminal justice system having suffered domestic mental, physical and sexual abuse, they are most likely to have been suffering from depression or other mental illness and abuse alcohol or other substances, some are addicted to pain medication, they are strip searched frequently, have low self esteem and continually beaten down by the system, post conviction relief is extremely difficult with the statute of limitations, its also very expensive and as usual, its the poor that stand less chance of seeing any real kind of fair justice.

I wonder if any of those commissioners have ever stood and watched hundreds of women stand in line to use the only microwave in a facility, or stood in line to get a cold shower with brown water, or to hear the constant din of officers barking commands over the loud speaker, living in these conditions warehoused in dorms, packed in like sardines, seeing the known drug dealers have an easy life, when a woman that has kept her nose clean and done what’s she’s been told to do and followed the rules, gets routinely woken in the night for a complete shake down and strip search or be told she can no longer wear a pair of coloured socks, shows that it is incredibly frustrating for those that have made the effort to stay citation free and to improve themselves over the time of their incarceration. It is truly a wonder to me that these women haven’t committed the violent crimes such as occurs in the mens prisons, surely that alone is testament to how far many of the women have come in rehabilitating themselves. The long timers are the ones that keep some kind of stability and order, and for those long timers that have an impeccable institutional record having being forced to live in conditions that they’ve been subjected to, they deserve to be paroled as soon as they are eligible. Set Our Women Free!    .

I can see how releasing to either community custody or paroling these women who are statistically speaking, the least likely to ever reoffend, would benefit the over all prison system. It would make sense and free up a complete facility or two, and the correctional officers that are attached to those could be redeployed to bolster numbers at the mens prisons where the rapes, beatings, murders etc, are occurring, surely, reducing the prison population starting off with the women is the common sense way to go, so if i can see it, and other tax paying citizens that have their loved ones incarcerated can see it, then why can’t or won’t the Governor, the Commissioner for ADOC or the parole board or any of those other parties that have a vested interest in keeping Alabama’s prisons the most deadly and unconstitutional in the entire country?

Read Tim Roche’s full report and recommendations from 2003 here  and see if you can understand or comprehend why ADOC has never acted on it, because i can’t.

 

Alabama Prison Population Rising Dramatically

As violence continues to plague the state’s prisons, new data from the Alabama Department of Corrections shows that the department is rapidly erasing much-needed reductions in the prison population. The prison population declined 3.6 percent last year, but that progress has been almost completely reversed in the first half of this fiscal year as the population rose 3.3 percent (an increase of 890 people) between last October and this April.

Admissions to ADOC custody for the current fiscal year are 9.5 percent higher (8332 people) than the same time last year (7607). And while admissions are climbing, releases have plummeted to 11.4 percent fewer so far this year (7704) than the same time last year (8698).

This dramatic rise in Alabama’s prison population coincides with changes in parole policy last fall. Since October, 37.2 percent fewer people have been paroled (1482 people) than were paroled by the same time last year (2360).

The rise in admissions and increasing limits on parole mean Alabama will experience a growth in the prison population that will add new challenges to the existing crisis in conditions in the state’s prisons. The data also undermines prison officials’ assertions that sentencing reforms are lowering the incarcerated population and easing overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

Alabama’s extraordinary prison homicide rate has already reached new crisis levels this year, with eight homicides in the first six months of 2019. Alabama had 10 homicides in 2018; 11 in 2017; 3 in 2016; and 8 in 2015.

The unprecedented level of violence, including sexual and lethal violence, that has plagued the state’s prisons for the last five years was the subject of a scathing findings letter issued by the Department of Justice this spring, and it has only gotten worse.

Since the Justice Department report was released on April 2, two incarcerated people have been killed in medium-security facilities. Joseph Holloway was serving a 40-year sentence for robbery when he was stabbed to death on June 5, 2019, at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. Jeremy Bailey was serving a 7-year sentence for a drug conviction when he was stabbed to death 10 days later at Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Violence at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville has also continued unchecked. During Memorial Day weekend, unconfiscated weapons and drugs, combined with staff failure to regulate prisoner movement, resulted in the stabbing of four men by a single armed and intoxicated incarcerated man. One of the victims was classified as minimum-out custody, had been in prison less than three months, and had repeatedly sought protection, notifying officials in the days before he was attacked that he was at risk in the housing unit and feared for his life.

Article originally published here 

Alabama’s Gruesome Prisons: Report Finds Rape and Murder at All Hours

April 3rd 2019 and published here By Katie Benner and Shaila Dewan

The segregation unit at Alabama’s St. Clair Correctional Facility houses inmates in solitary confinement. Many have come to see the unit as a haven from the prison’s general population.CreditCreditWilliam Widmer for The New York Times

One prisoner had been dead for so long that when he was discovered lying face down, his face was flattened. Another was tied up and tortured for two days while no one noticed. Bloody inmates screamed for help from cells whose doors did not lock.

Those were some of the gruesome details in a 56-page report on the Alabama prison system that was issued by the Justice Department on Wednesday. The report, one of the first major civil rights investigations by the department to be released under President Trump, uncovered shocking conditions in the state’s massively overcrowded and understaffed facilities.

Prisoners in the Alabama system endured some of the highest rates of homicide and rape in the country, the Justice Department found, and officials showed a “flagrant disregard” for their right to be free from excessive and cruel punishment. The investigation began in the waning days of the Obama administration and continued for more than two years after Mr. Trump took office. 

The department notified the prison system that it could sue in 49 days “if State officials have not satisfactorily addressed our concerns.”

[The New York Times received more than 2,000 photos taken inside an Alabama prison. This is what they showed.]

Alabama is not alone in having troubled, violent prisons. But the state has one of the country’s highest incarceration rates and its correctional system is notoriously antiquated, dangerous and short-staffed. The major prisons are at 182 percent of their capacity, the report found, contraband is rampant and prisoners sleep in dorms they are not assigned to in order to escape violence.

“The violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision,” the report said, noting that some facilities had fewer than 20 percent of their allotted positions filled. It also cited the use of solitary confinement as a protective measure for vulnerable inmates, and “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.”

State officials said the report addressed issues that Alabama was already aware of and working to fix.

“For more than two years, the D.O.J. pursued an investigation of issues that have been the subject of ongoing litigation and the target of significant reforms by the state,” a statement from the office of Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with D.O.J. to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety, making certain that this Alabama problem has an Alabama solution.”

But the report called the state “deliberately indifferent” to the risks prisoners face, and said, “It has failed to correct known systemic deficiencies that contribute to the violence.” Legislative efforts to reduce overcrowding through measures such as reducing sentences were not made retroactive and have had “minimal effect,” the report said.

Alabama’s prisons have for years been the subject of civil rights litigation by the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center, nonprofit legal advocacy groups based in Montgomery. Maria Morris, the lead lawyer for the center’s lawsuit, also disputed the assertion that the problems were being fixed.

“They’re not fixing them,” Ms. Morris said. “They’re giving a lot of lip service to the need to fix them, but the lip service always comes back to we just need a billion dollars to build new prisons and, as the Department of Justice found, that’s not going to solve the problem.”

Alabama inmates continue to die in high numbers. There have been 15 suicides in the past 15 months, and the homicide rate vastly exceeds the national average for prisons.

The Justice Department report focused on the failure to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence because of what it said was inadequate training, failure to properly classify and supervise inmates, and failure to stem the flow of contraband including weapons and drugs, among other problems.

The department is still investigating excessive force and sexual abuse by prison staff members, an investigation that former federal prosecutors say could lead to criminal indictments.

[Our reporter went inside St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Ala. He found it was “virtually ungoverned” and the inmates were armed.]

Investigators visited four prisons and interviewed more than 270 prisoners. To “provide a window into a broken system,” the report detailed a single week’s worth of injuries and attacks, including days that saw multiple incidents including stabbings, a sleeping man attacked with socks filled with metal locks and another man being forced to perform oral sex on two men at knife point.

The department also concluded that the system does not provide “safe and sanitary” living conditions. Open sewage ran by the pathway that government lawyers used to access one facility, which the state closed soon after the visit. One investigator grew ill from the toxic fumes of cleaning fluids while inspecting the kitchen, the report said.

The report said the state failed to track violent deaths or adequately investigate sex abuse. At least three homicide victims — including one who was stabbed and another who was beaten — were classified as having died from natural causes, the report said. The report listed nine killings in which the victims had been previously attacked or officials had received other warnings that they were in danger.

Sexual assaults occur in “dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night,” the report said. Prisons must screen inmates and separate sexually abusive prisoners from those at risk of sexual abuse, particularly gay and transgender people; the report said Alabama does not do so.

Inmates are raped to pay off debts, and one mother told the Justice Department that a prisoner had texted her to say he would “chop her son into pieces and rape him if she did not send him $800,” the report said.

Last month, Governor Ivey warned of “horrendous conditions” in the prisons and an impending federal intervention in her State of the State speech.

Ms. Ivey said the department had increased the prison budget in recent years, given raises to corrections officers and requested $31 million to hire 500 more correctional officers and increase pay in the coming fiscal year.

But Mac McArthur, the executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, which includes state corrections workers, said attrition was still outpacing recruitment, in part because starting salaries were still below $30,000 a year for some officers, and in part because the job was so dangerous.

The federal investigation was opened during the Obama administration, after the lawsuits over prison abuses and published accounts of endemic brutality, violence and torture. The investigation continued under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had also served as a longtime senator from Alabama.

The report included a series of measures necessary to remedy the constitutional and other violations that regularly occur in the Alabama prison system, including additional screening for those entering the prisons, moving low-risk inmates, hiring 500 additional corrections officers and overhauling disciplinary processes around violence and sexual assault.

Similar federal civil rights investigations have resulted in consent decrees — court-approved deals that include a road map of changes that institutions such as police departments and state correction departments must adhere to in order to avoid being sued.

But in a break with past practice, Mr. Sessions placed three key restrictions on consent decrees. He said that a top political appointee must sign off on any deal. Department lawyers must show proof of violations that go beyond unconstitutional behavior. And the deals must have a sunset date, meaning they can expire before violations have been remedied. The current attorney general, William P. Barr, has not changed Mr. Sessions’s policy.

Mr. Sessions said that the consent decrees interfered with states’ rights, a position echoed by Ms. Ivey in her statement insisting on an “Alabama solution.”

But Vanita Gupta, a head of the civil rights division in the Obama administration and one of the officials who opened the investigation, said that given the pervasive problems and the history of inaction, “nothing short of a comprehensive consent decree will adequately address these constitutional violations.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on whether it would seek a consent decree.

Ms. Ivey is hardly the first governor to reckon with the prison system and its decrepit conditions. Her immediate predecessor, Robert Bentley, pushed a plan for $800 million in bonds to build four new prisons and to close some existing facilities.

But governors have only so much influence in Alabama, and the Legislature balked, especially as a scandal left Mr. Bentley weakened. This year, Ms. Ivey proposed a similar plan for new prisons that state officials hoped would be ready by 2022.

Alan Blinder contributed reporting.

Follow Katie Benner and Shaila Dewan on Twitter: @ktbenner and @shailadewan.