Opinion | Shameless: Alabama asks to use COVID funds to build more prisons

“The Department of Corrections wants federal dollars to build more prisons. The Treasury Department should laugh.”

By JOSH MOON

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

There is no shame left in Alabama. Admittedly, shame has been in short supply here for decades. But whatever miniscule amount remained was shoved out on July 15 — the day Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department asking if the state could use COVID-19 relief funds to build new prisons. 

That’s right. In the state with the worst vaccination rate in the country, where rural hospitals are closing like Blockbuster stores and tens of thousands of Alabamians lack basic sewer services, we’re trying to use COVID recovery funds to incarcerate people. 

Not create programs that move people out of prisons. Not provide more resources to underserved communities to squeeze shut the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Nope. Build bigger prisons. 

hat was our ADOC commissioner’s idea. And, as hard as it is to believe, that’s not even the worst part. 

Dunn’s reasoning was essentially: We lock up a lot of Black and brown people, and because we’ve so thoroughly neglected our prisons over the past 50 years and routinely over-crowd them, those “disproportionately impacted” people (minority individuals) are being hurt by the atrocious living conditions that make viral spread much easier. 

He actually wrote this down and mailed it to the Treasury Department. 

(I’m no attorney, but this letter would seem to make it very easy for Alabama prisoners to sue the state and prison system for violating their constitutional rights. I mean, the commissioner has just stated publicly that the living conditions that led to dozens of COVID deaths and even more hospitalizations and long-term illnesses were known to everyone.)

The insanity of the ADOC commissioner stating that “we’re locking up a lot of minority people and not treating them well, so please let us use this virus money to solve the problems that we’ve been unwilling to solve on our own” is off the charts. 

But it’s also a window into the disturbing minds of Alabama’s leaders. 

They know full well that there is a multitude of problems within our corrections system. So many, in fact, that we really shouldn’t be allowed to call it a corrections system, since nothing — including the department’s own ineptitude — is ever corrected. 

Instead, what we have is really, really crappy housing for thousands of people that we fail every single day. 

Most of our incarcerated people never had a shot at anything other than a jail cell. They arrived in broken homes — often the result of the failed “war on drugs” — and went to broken schools. They lived their lives hungry and angry. And they landed in “the system” at an early age. From there, life as a criminal began — for any one of a thousand well-known reasons — and thanks to our utter inability to rehabilitate anyone, there was never an off-ramp on this road. 

None of that absolves any of the prisoners of personal responsibility, of course. But if we’re going to ask them to take responsibility for their failures and their poor actions, then we should damn well be willing to do the same. 

But we don’t. 

We have poured billions of dollars into our prisons, and we’ve produced possibly the country’s worst. Prisoners die at alarming rates. Drugs are everywhere inside of the prison walls, despite the fact there hasn’t been a visitor in one for more than a year. Education programs have been left to rot. And COVID ran wild. 

It’s so bad that the Trump DOJ — that’s right, the Trump DOJ — sued Alabama over its prison mismanagement. That case is still ongoing, and we’re going to lose. 

And now, these incompetents want federal dollars to build more prisons. 

The Treasury Department should laugh. 

Or better yet, it should send Alabama a list of things it could do with its COVID recovery funds to solve its prison issues. Things like establishing more equitable funding for all public schools. And guaranteeing that all Alabama school children have access to broadband. And guaranteeing that all public school meals are free — and that there are at least two meals a day. And ensuring that there are quality afterschool programs and viable community centers. And ensuring that working families can get childcare costs 100 percent covered. And providing competent legal representation for all accused people. And offering — and actually staffing — educational and vocational programs for convicted people. And doing more work to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences. And re-establishing Alabama’s top notch mental health network that saved millions of lives. 

We could do all of those things with a fraction of the money it currently costs to operate Alabama’s prisons. 

But those things are hard. They dip into areas of race and class. And they mostly come with few political points for the person pushing them. 

The result of not doing these things, however, we know. We see those results in the hellholes we call our state prisons — prisons that are so bad the ADOC commissioner is out here begging the feds for a little help. 

And we’re begging for that help even as we fight the feds in court over the terrible state of our prisons. 

See what I meant about the absence of shame in Alabama? 

Piece originally published on Alabama Political Reporter.

Alabama Department of Corrections ridiculous and arbitrary mail practices that discriminates against women with the lowest custody level at Birmingham Community Based Work Release Facility

There is nothing in the Alabama Department of Corrections administrative regulations that we could find that details what they are doing to the women’s mail at this facility. As mail arrives, it is photocopied, be it letters, birthday cards or photographs, they then destroy the originals and give the women the black and white photocopy.

They claim this arbitrary practice is in order to stem the supply of drugs into the facility, however, despite not having visitation for over 3 months now due to the pandemic, the drugs are still readily available which proves what we all suspected anyway, in that the drugs are not brought in by an inmates family and friends at visitation, but rather its being smuggled in by ADOC’s own staff or via legal mail.

The key dealers in this facility know how to easily circumvent ADOC’s ineffective drug screening and detection protocols, they would rather punish every woman by destroying their mail, even mail that is sent from 3rd party online services, than deal with the culprits effectively.

Morale and self esteem is at an all time low, visitation has been put on hold with no time frame of when it will resume. This work release facility should be preparing women to go back into the free world after years of suffering within these hell hole facilities where they have been deliberately denied even the most basic of human rights, but ADOC is doing the opposite, they are locking down, they are taking away, they are disregarding and punishing those that have already been punished with the loss of their liberty in some cases for decades already, now they can’t even receive a picture drawn by a child to its mother.

We are sick and tired of how they treat our loved ones.

 

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

An inmates prayer for help at Montgomery Women’s Facility

To All:

I write in hope that all who read this, take it to heart. When a person loses their liberty and becomes incarcerated, the punishment is the loss of said liberty. According to Websters New World Dictionary, the definition of liberty is “Freedom from slavery, captivity etc.”. A particular right, freedom etc. The definition for inmate is “A person confined with others in a prison or mental institution”. The definition of prison is “A place of confinement for convicted criminals or persons who are awaiting trial”.

A prayer for help at Montgomery Women's Facility
A prayer for help at Montgomery Women’s Facility

Nowhere in these definitions or even the law does it say that during an inmates loss of liberty whilst being confined to prison, is it acceptable to abuse, mistreat, belittle or otherwise punish an inmate. Here at Montgomery Women’s Facility all of the above and worse take place. The reason people, yes i said people, here don’t speak out is because they are in fear of retaliation.

There are posters all over this facility about PREA and extortion. It is for show only. They went through PREA “Training”. They say they know what is supposed to happen, how we are supposed to be treated, but do as they please anyway. It is all for show for the Department Of Justice, lawyers and Commissioners, They do not follow it.

I personally know things about this place, things i have been through and have witnessed, but to come forward would be huge retaliation. All you have to do is look at the outcome of one inmate who came forward, to see how said retaliation degraded her. It mentally, physically and spiritually broke her down and left her feeling even more abused.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading