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.”

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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.

 

Despite talks of reform, Alabama’s prisons remain deplorable

Article Originally published here on January 09, 2017 at 3:35 PM, updated January 09, 2017 at 3:39 PM
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)

By Dr. Larry F. Wood, retired clinical and correctional psychologist

I spoke out on the prison reform issue two years ago after working in Tutwiler women’s prison as a prison psychologist. Even after 25 years of professional experience in prisons, I was unprepared for the immensity of the problems. In particular, mental health and medical care were severely inadequate. The administration of the prison was unprofessional and abusive. Two years ago, I described the prison environment as a culture of abuse.

In the past two years, a federal investigation has continued and a trial is under way. The State of Alabama continues to deny that the conditions are unconstitutional. No substantial improvements or program changes have been announced. Governor Bentley has focused on borrowing money to build more prisons.

I have been disappointed that little seems to have happened over the past two years. State Senator Cam Ward has spoken eloquently on the subject, but there seems to be no political will to address the problem directly.

One core of the problem is the simple overuse of imprisonment to deal with social problems other than aggressive criminality. The most extreme example is mental illness. State hospitals were closed because of abusive conditions and now, most of the seriously mentally ill in our state are in prisons. Many other inmates are intellectually inadequate, socially unskilled, or drug addicted. Many were traumatized by a lifetime of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Prisons were initially used to control and punish the overtly dangerous. Their role has been expanded over many years to include the chronically disruptive in society. Such people are arrested numerous times and are backed up in county jails, waiting for beds to house them in prison. Prison, as a punisher, is not appropriate or effective for many such inmates.

Simply stated, Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded because too many people are being held in expensive, high security lockups. If our prisons were reduced to recommended population levels, they could be operated safely and professionally. Minimum security facilities with focused treatment and programs would be far less expensive than prisons for most inmates.

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Dormitory Representatives Meeting Notes

During a meeting on November 7th 2016 at Montgomery Women’s Facility, questions concerning classes and education were asked. The response from Captain Katrina Moore (Brown) was “No you all think the community/society cares if you’ve had parenting or have your GED?”

With this being said, considering that prison is supposed to teach & rehabilitate, can you, as the community/society tell us, do you care? What do you expect for us prisoners in the Alabama Dept of Corrections?

Note: Some of the women are willing to find a way to pay for their education themselves, or their family is willing to help better themselves. What kind of people would society rathe have released? The Capt. Shut it down & said she doesn’t care.

Transcribed from a letter by inmate T, identity withheld for fear of retaliation
Dormitory Representatives Meeting Notes
Dormitory Representatives Meeting Notes

Orientation 101!

Inmate 1: Excuse me, I just got here, could you tell me what the Warden’s name is?

Inmate 2: Oh sorry, we do not currently have a warden

Inmate 1: Well, I need to see Classification, what do i do or who do i have to talk to?

Inmate 2: Oh, well sorry bout that too, we don’t have one of those either. Well really, we have nothing, talk to the Cptn, Lt or Sgt, thats pretty much it.

Orientation 101 at Montgomery Women's Facility
Orientation 101 at Montgomery Women’s Facility

Inmate 1: Can the Captain, Lt or Sgt’s help me get my custody, so i can go to work to start paying on my fines?

Inmate 2: Well, No, and didn’t you tell me you have a Manslaughter conviction? Yeah, Well, Min-Out is as low as you can go, So really Classification or no one for that matter will help you.

Inmate 1: Your serious? Okay, well, how do things work around here? Canteen, Laundry, Law Library or GED? What can i expect to see today?

inmate 2: Well, its never consistent. Day to day is very confusing. See, right now we don’t have a canteen supervisor, so the lady from the PMOD Dept, of the business office comes when she feels like it. Its never a set time, Oh and she doesn’t always fill your whole order, especially if you write on the back of the ticket. Yeah the tickets have to be reused. The laundry is open daily from 6:30 – 4:00. Its crazy too though because its located outside and you have to be dressed & have shoes on to go. Sometimes you get requests filled quickly, but most of the time it takes a while to get your request for clothing filled. The Officer over that is busy doing a lot of other jobs and they usually don’t have the most popular sizes. Also, the law library is very out dated, it is not very helpful.

If you have to have your GED, good luck. The materials are old, there is no supervision during the day, the prison really don’t consider it a priority, so good luck. Its really chaotic here because no one is on one accord. There is a big lack of communication here.

Inmate 1: Does this place at least have a Chaplain? Someone i can talk to about issues with me, family or my beliefs?

Inmate 2: Well, yes & no. Theres no staffed Chaplain here. There is 2 very sweet ladies from We Care that volunteer here a couple of days a week. Its not really confidential to talk to them, see they sit up at the front tables in the day area, where the TV is, so its noisy and sometimes crazy. We don’t have a Chapel. We use the rooms in the shift office when available. Not a lot of groups get to come through. Catholic services & Jehovah’s witnesses is only once a month. Most of the services are groups from Church’s the officers attend. There is no one to send requests to, for Religious materials and the Religions Medalions, only work release can get them sent in. If you already have a cross from Tutwiler, you many get to keep it, depending on the officer’s, they all do it differently.

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No Warden, No Classification Officer and Now, No Canteen Lady

Montgomery Women’s Facility has been without a full time Warden since Mr Edward Ellington left to take over at Draper Correctional Facility in March 2016. Wardenship passed temporarily to Warden Terrance during which time conditions within the facility took a drastic turn for the worse, Ms Terrance left in August and the Captain has been acting as warden since.

Alabama Department of Corrections staffing woes and their impact, are still negatively felt throughout all aspects of ADOC, it has been reported that at other facilities, Correctional Officers have gone on strike citing the dangerous conditions that are festering as the upper echelons of Alabama Department of Corrections struggle to get a grip on a system that is failing from the top all the way down. Its not just an issue of safety and security, the absence of a classification officer as at Montgomery Women’s Facility increases stress, tension and creates an additional bottleneck in an already dangerously over crowded prison system, people that have served their sentences, especially those that are considered long-timers should be high on the list of priorities as they approach their parole and end of sentence dates.

Classification Officers are supposed to interview and assess amongst other things the custodial level biannually, effectively allowing those that have a low enough custody level, to be able to work and be in preparation for their release. Having no classification officer is a serious issue and it keeps women held on higher custodial levels than which they are entitled too, in an already over populated, neglectful and abusive prison system, common sense you would have thought, would be a priority, facilitating the lowering of custodial levels to those eligible, effectively freeing up bed space and hastening the transition back into society, not to mention raising moral, giving hope to those that have often served many years from dubious convictions.

Bear in mind too, that Alabama cases are difficult for many reasons, for example Post-conviction records are exceptionally hard to obtain in Alabama, and there is no specific post-conviction DNA testing statute except in capital cases. New evidence often must be brought before a court within six months of discovery, which can be extremely difficult and at times, impossible. Alacourt.com controls public court records in Alabama and charges exorbitant access fees, making the records virtually inaccessible to those incarcerated or their families which are generally on low incomes, Alabama needs to rethink its policy on locking people up and throwing away the keys, giving fair hearings, trials and sentences would be a great start.

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The Forgotten

I sit back and watch things that go on. I use to stand up at the injustices and the wrongs done by officers, but retaliation against me for so long, i say nothing. I wonder if we are forgotten, or does society even care that we suffer abuse behind bars. There are plenty of female inmates that are here for drug convictions or robbery or theft of property and a lot get out after 5 years or less and keep breaking the law and keep coming back to prison.

The Forgotten - an inmates statement regarding the criminal judicial system in Alabama.
The Forgotten – an inmates statement regarding the criminal judicial system in Alabama and how it treats “violent female offenders” versus the “non-violent repeat offenders”.

And there are plenty of us who are here for defending our lives or that of our children, and by taking a life that was a threat to us or our loved ones, we forfeit our freedom and removed from our families. We are rarely ever given another chance at living in society, yet we are the ones who won’t commit another crime and keep returning to prison. We are not the ones society should fear. We don’t get high on drugs and break into your home to steal.

We are guilty of murdering one who was threatening to kill us. On those rare occasions when we are given another chance at society, we don’t come back, we don’t prey on society. We appreciate our new freedom because we have lost so much. Society shouldn’t worry about female violent offenders. 9 times out of 10, the person we killed was an abusive husband or boyfriend. It’s easy to judge us, but until your life or your children’s life has been threatened, you have no idea what you are capable of doing. The ones society should worry about granting parole to and the ones who get a slap on the hand with light sentences are the nonviolent offenders, society drug users and drug dealers. Society should fear these women. They will prey on your Mom & Dad, your sister and brother, your grand parents, your children.

The prison door is a revolving door for them. For us who are here for murder in self defence, serve our whole sentences and are rarely granted parole and those with life sentences end up dying in prison. We are locked up and forgotten and yet we are the least dangerous, the least of society’s worries.

Transcribed by admin, inmates name withheld in fear of retaliation

 

Fears For Inmates Health as Summertime Temperature’s Soar

No More Heat Deaths
No More Heat Deaths

Nation Inside is hearing reports from prisoners and families across the country regarding abusive heat conditions, an issue of life and death as summer rolls in and climate disruption brings triple digit temperatures. Let’s protect those inside by putting the pressure on prison officials to fix oppressive heat conditions.

Hundreds of prisons, jails, and detention centers are already sweltering. Where facilities fail to take appropriate measures to cool inmates, there will be illness, needless suffering and death. Exposing those inside our nation’s prisons to lethal temperatures is wrong. It’s unconstitutional —amounting to a form of cruel and unusual punishment—and a violation of basic human rights. Help those inside by joining the national “Stop the Heat” campaign.

Far too often, non-air-conditioned cells are also overcrowded, putting lives in jeopardy.According to a Columbia University report, members of the prison population have a number of risk factors “including advanced age, poor mental and physical health, and the use of medications,” that make them especially vulnerable to hyperthermia and other heat related conditions. The 300 women held in Montgomery Women’s Facility in Alabama, are housed in an uninsulated tin shed, in which the doors are kept closed and they have only several fans circulating the hot air within. Summertime in the South is hot, with the average temperature being in the high 90’s with high humidity.

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The warden refuses to listen to cries for help.

I was just released form the Montgomery Women’s Facility yesterday, 06/07/2016. The medical staff there has got to be the worst in the world. I spent 1 1/2 years in pain and sick only to find out last month I had “some kind” of mass in my side. I was given meds that I was allergic to, causing serious side effects. I have witnessed individuals become ill and need immediate attention and told to put in a sick call.

The heat inside the warehouse is over 100 degrees as we speak. Yet when organizations offer to donate a/c systems they are turned down even though women are falling out with heat exhaustion. Rules change not just on a daily basis but on the same shift from officer to officer. Why? Because the officers are allowed to run this camp, not a warden.

This facility is supposed to be for work release, yet over half are not. This facility currently houses 300 people in an 75 x 95 tin building. It is filthy, over run with rats, roaches and flies. The septic system must be emptied at least once a month and the fumes are toxic. There is a constant gas leak outside the building that causes nausea and head aches.

The water is from the prison next door and is constantly being shut off. State jobs are not assigned to age appropriate individuals. Often women over 50 will be put on outside/inside grounds working harder than some men. Not only are women punished for infractions with write ups they then must do extra duty. Does not matter if you are smoking in an unauthorized area or have a dirty urine the punishment is the same.

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