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.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke and thats not the half of it…

Alabama Department of Corrections likes to put out numbers concerning the amount they spend on inmates healthcare, but they are lies. We have to fill out a sick call for each thing that is wrong with us, and pay $4.00 each time. Any over the counter medicine given to us costs $4.00 for each medicine.

Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke
Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke

For example, if we sign up for a cold, we are charged $4.00 for the visit, $4.00 for the Ibuprofen, $4.00 for the Sinus pills, and $4.00 for the decongestant. They rarely give out antibiotics. We have to sign up at least 3x before we can see the nurse practitioner or Doctor. When we have an accessed tooth, they put us on the Dental waiting list, sometimes it takes 2 months before you see the Dentist, and then you have to be given antibiotics to get rid of the infection, before the tooth can be pulled.

We’ve had girls with their cheeks swollen 3x the normal size because of an accessed tooth and yet health care will not let them see the Doctor to get started on an antibiotic, whilst waiting to see the Dentist.

Those on chronic care for high blood pressure, have to pay $4.00 if we feel that our blood pressure is up and ask to have our blood pressure checked. If you complain about the healthcare at Montgomery Women’s Facility too much, they will send you back to Tutwiler, where no one wants to go. Its their way of punishing us for speaking out against their mistreatment. We call healthcare, deathcare and most of us try to avoid their type of care.

Correctional Medical Services, which later became Corizon, held the contract from 2007 to 2012. ADOC awarded Corizon the healthcare contract in 2012, through to Sept. 30, 2017, under extension, it was the only company to submit a bid. The $181 million extension will bring the total cost of the contract to $405 million. State funds pay 100 percent of the cost. So why the hell are inmates forced to pay for each appointment despite having to wait in some cases months to see a healthcare professional and then pay extortionate prices for over the counter medicine which cost pennies in the free world and where the hell are they supposed to get the money from in the first place?

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program have sued Alabama Department of Corrections, over the failure to provide adequate medical care, mental health care and accommodations for the disabled violates the constitution and federal law. Despite ADOC claiming their “healthcare” is adequate, it has agreed to improve conditions for inmates with disabilities, the lawsuit is ongoing and in fact, The SPLC, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and the law firm of Baker Donelson have asked a federal judge to certify its lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) as a class action, which would allow rulings in the case over the inadequate medical and mental health care of 43 prisoners named in the lawsuit to apply to the 25,000 people held in a prison system that has had one of the highest mortality rates in the country.

 

When Defense Lawyers Become Prosecutors

By J. Celso Castro Alves, Truthout | News Analysis

Scales of Justice weigh heavily against Defendants in Alabama

In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilised. In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilized. However, in practice, defenders sometimes end up working with the forces of power — and against the best interests of their clients. (Photo: Pixabay)

On January 5, 2015, Randall H. McCants Jr. was not alone when Judge James H. Roberts Jr. of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of the State of Alabama opened his courtroom for a plea hearing. “Mr. McCants is present in court with his attorneys, Jim Gentry and Mike Cartee,” he stated. Besides the judge’s reference to McCants’ court-appointed attorneys by their nicknames, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Roberts cited McCants’ constitutional rights before highlighting his defense attorneys’ central task: “Your attorneys are bound to do everything they can honorably and reasonably do to see that you obtain a fair and impartial trial.” McCants answered the judge’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Even to the charge of capital murder and the question of whether he understood that “the range of punishment is life without parole or death,” McCants responded, “yes, sir.”

According to the nine-page hearing transcript, Roberts knew that McCants had pled not-guilty during his post-arrest arraignment in January 2011. In fact, Roberts acknowledged that McCants’ attorneys had only recently “proposed a plea agreement” for the “lesser offence of murder.” Yet, at no point during the hearing did Roberts wonder about what prompted McCants’ sudden about-face. Did four mysterious years in pretrial detention impact McCants’ decision? Could McCants’ attorneys have coerced him to plead guilty by invoking fear that a greater punishment awaited him at trial? Whether McCants was mentally competent to grasp legal proceedings or understand that he was assuming full responsibility for the accidental death of a Tuscaloosa resident apparently did not cross Roberts’ mind either.

Rather, Judge Roberts proceeded with the plea colloquy by asking prosecutor Jonathan S. Cross to provide “some facts” for the first-degree murder plea. Compliant, Cross stood and delivered some skimpy facts in the most casual and sloppy fashion possible:

Continue reading

Air Conditioning Is a Human Right

Jeff Edwards and Scott Medlock July 21, 2016
Air Conditioners are desperately needed throughout Alabama's prison system
Air Conditioners are desperately needed throughout Alabama’s prison system

Edwards and Medlock are trial lawyers with Edwards Law in Austin.

Texas, like other states, does not air condition its prisons—and by doing so, it kills people.

In 2011, the State of Texas convicted Larry McCollum of forgery, for passing a bad check. He was supposed to serve a short prison sentence of two years, then go home to his family. Instead, the conditions inside Texas prisons gave him a death sentence. He died of heat stroke—indoors.

Over 120,000 beds in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system do not have air conditioning, including the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas, where Mr. McCollum was imprisoned. As a result, the indoor heat index—the combination of temperature and humidity—frequently exceeds 100 degrees on hot summer days. Shortly before Mr. McCollum died, the Hutchins’ warden received multiple emails from the risk manager, who took a thermometer around to the dorms, stating the temperature inside the inmate dormitories reached 102 degrees by early afternoon, and that the heat index inside was likely 123. While Mr. McCollum baked inside his dormitory, his body temperature rose to 109.4. Eventually, his body began to seize, and he was hospitalized. When his wife and adult children were summoned, they learned his body temperature had permanently damaged his brain, and he would not survive.

According to the National Weather Service, in an average year, heat kills more people than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. In all, during the past 18 years, over 20 men have died with the cause of death of heat stroke inside prison buildings constructed and maintained by the State of Texas. Though the count is likely much higher: When temperatures go over 90 degrees, the medical risk of heat stroke increases markedly, and it can lead to other causes of death, especially for people with certain common medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, or who take certain medications, including most mental health prescriptions.

Continue reading

We are unable to contact PREA externally

Our telephones are outside. They are in the glass booths from the old days. Some glass panes are missing. There are no doors on them. During the summer we burn up fighting wasps that make their nests inside the phone booths. During the winter we freeze. The winds and rains reach us while we use the phones. When the yard closes we do not have access to the phones and shift officers are supposed to give us 2 phone breaks, but these breaks are only 10-15 minutes, when a phone call lasts 30 minutes.

Inmates at Montgomery Women's Facility cannot contact PREA staff externally (Prison Rape Elimination Act)
Inmates at Montgomery Women’s Facility cannot contact PREA staff externally (Prison Rape Elimination Act)

We have 10 phones for 300 women, so if you’re not in the 1st 10, you do not get to use the phone. Then 2nd shift is filled with very young and very immature officers who give us phone breaks when they feel like it. Then when an inmate is on the phone and its count time or the yard closes, officers come out there screaming “Get off the phone!, Get off now!”. Yet when they get ready to count they warn the inmates in the shower, that they have 5 minutes to get out before count time.

Why can’t we get a warning on the phones instead of all that screaming, which scares our loved ones on the line? Also PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) states they are supposed to give us a 15 minute warning to get out of the showers, yet Montgomery Women’s Facility officers DO NOT follow PREA guidelines at all.

Continue reading

Animals are treated better than us

Every morning, Monday – Friday all 300 of us gets kicked out of the dorm at 7am so a few inmates can clean the front of the dorm and our bathroom. We are left outside till 08.30 and 9am. We only have 14 tables that will sit roughly 70 inmates. The rest of us have to sit on the ground. We get kicked out while its cold and even if the ground and tables are soaking wet from rain. The only time we don’t get kicked out is if its below 32°f.

Statement form an inmate highlighting the daily routine in Montgomery Women's Facility
Statement form an inmate highlighting the daily routine in Montgomery Women’s Facility

They don’t take into consideration of the wind chill. During the summer we have no shade and are forced to be in the sun for 2 hrs. We clean our own living areas yet we’re forced outside when its wet, cold, windy or when its hot and humid. The officers start yelling at us at 06:15 to get in compliance and to get out. Yet regs state compliance time is 08:00 but we are forced at 07:00. The officers snicker and think its funny that they herd us out.

Our roof leaks in over a dozen spots. We have to move our 300lbs beds when it rains, so we won’t get rained on. Once again, we live in worse conditions than animals.

On 3rd shift, which is 22:00 to 06:00 they torture us with the lights. They won’t turn the lights off till 23:30 or 00:00, then they cut them back on at 01:00 to count, then again at 03:00 and they remain on all morning. We are sleep deprived.

On our pill line, there are over 70 of us, yet the officers will call everyone up there at one time creating a cluster of people blocking aisles. Some of us will go as the pill line goes down to about 15 inmates, yet the officers will prevent us from getting our meds, saying we are late to pill line. Yet how can i be late to pill line, when pill line is still going? The night before last, a Sgt. actually wrote up an inmate for taking her medicine after she came to pill line, when the line still had 10 inmates in line. We are not to be refused our meds, yet we are at Montgomery Women’s Facility.

Continue reading

Why you should care about ensuring defendants get a fair trial

By Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender

On March 18, 1963, in “Gideon v. Wainwright,” the United States Supreme Court recognized that people who are charged with crimes are entitled to legal counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. By upholding the constitutional right to an attorney, the Court empowered the justice system as a whole.

Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau
Kira Fonteneau, Jefferson County Public Defender c/o Kira Fonteneau

“Our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law,” declared Justice Hugo Black, an Alabama native, in the court’s opinion. “This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Since Gideon, a generation of lawyers and other professionals have worked tirelessly to defend clients who would otherwise be crushed under the weight of the criminal justice system.

As lawyers who represent the poor in Alabama, we know that many people have mixed feelings about the role criminal defense lawyers play in society.  It can be hard for the public to separate an individual from the grievous crimes he is accused of by the government. All too often, that societal distrust of alleged criminals is extended toward the people who defend them. As a result, there is a natural tendency to downplay the importance of providing a quality defense to those who are accused.

Justice is only possible when it is extended to all parties in the criminal system.

Continue reading

Prison secrets: AL.com investigation finds prison bosses have little to fear from breaking the rules

Warden Carter Davenport (right) speaks to media members during a tour as State Senator Cam Ward (center) and Kim Thomas, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections listen at the St. Clair Correctional Facility Fri., March 16, 2012 in Springville, Ala. (The Birmingham News/Bernard Troncale). (BERNARD TRONCALE)
Warden Carter Davenport (right) speaks to media members during a tour as State Senator Cam Ward (center) and Kim Thomas, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections listen at the St. Clair Correctional Facility Fri., March 16, 2012 in Springville, Ala. (The Birmingham News/Bernard Troncale). (BERNARD TRONCALE)
By Casey Toner – on June 13, 2014 at 5:33 AM, updated March 12, 2016 at 1:48 PM

SPRINGVILLE, Alabama — On a routine cell transfer in 2012, a handcuffed inmate at St. Clair Correctional Facility had a few choice words that pricked the ear of Warden Carter Davenport.

Davenport, then a 24-year corrections veteran, wasn’t going to let it slide. Not in the state’s second-most-violent prison. Not from an inmate placed in segregation — a dorm reserved for the prison’s worst troublemakers.

Incensed, Davenport clenched his fist and cracked him in the head. When the inmate quieted down, Davenport removed his shackles and led him back to his cell.

In most places, it is a crime to punch a handcuffed man. But in Alabama’s correctional system, it is a merely a policy violation, which was documented in Davenport’s personnel file. There was no investigation of the case, no interview with the inmate, and no record made of his injuries. Davenport received a two-day suspension, which he served the following month.

An AL.com analysis of hundreds of personnel documents shows that the state’s wardens can flout the rules, take a slap on the wrist, return to work or transfer to other prisons. In fact, some wardens were promoted to their positions even after serving suspensions as lower-ranking officers for beating inmates or covering up beatings.

Continue reading

Alabama prisons to improve treatment of inmates with disabilities

Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates' medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC's offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)
Maria Morris, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, announces a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging that the system violates federal law by ignoring inmates’ medical and mental health needs. Morris spoke outside DOC’s offices in Montgomery, Ala., on June 17, 2014. Morris was joined by William Van Der Pol Jr., staff attorney for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, which is also taking part in the lawsuit, alleging discrimination against prisoners with disabilities. (Mike Cason/mcason@al.com)
By Kelsey Stein – on March 16, 2016 at 9:52 AM, updated March 16, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Alabama inmates with disabilities will soon receive the necessary treatment and services, under a recent agreement between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Department of Corrections.

SPLC filed a lawsuit in June 2014 claiming that state officials knew about problems within the system but had not acted to bring conditions to a “humane and constitutional” level. The plaintiffs include 40 named inmates who offer details about their individual encounters with inadequate health care.

The agreement outlines steps ADOC will take to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A monitor will oversee the implementation of the agreement’s provisions.

“This agreement is an important commitment by the Alabama Department of Corrections to address the discrimination and hardship these prisoners have faced for far too long,” said Maria Morris, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “Prisoners with disabilities must have an opportunity to serve the sentence they have received – not the sentence they must endure because the state fails to respect their legal rights.”

Continue reading