An Insider’s Perspective
A $3 Billion Dollar Wasteland is Not What Alabama Needs
Over the past several years nearly everyone in Alabama has heard about the many plans and attempts to build new prisons. We, the now- 23,000+ men, women, and (far too many) children incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections have heard about these new prisons too.
We know that the public does not want them. We know that the Alabama Legislature refused to budget them. We know that families who have been extorted, lost loved ones, or don’t know when their loved ones are coming home don’t want them. We also know that the residents of Brierfield and Tallassee, many college students, and thousands of other Alabamians don’t want them either. I can safely say that all 23,000 of us and our families, who are ALL struggling to survive in these death camps, don’t want them either.
Yet, despite this overwhelming public opposition, private prison corporations have signed contracts to build them anyway. What is really going on? Why are corporations and publicly elected officials willing to defy public sentiment and build them anyway? And, why are they willing to invest so much money into a prison system that is already in a deadly crisis?
We all know that we should follow the money on this one but not just the money changing hands in the secret contracts. No, the real money to follow will be after the prisons are complete. The collect calls, medical co-pays, the fees, usury prices for canteens purchases, incentive packages, and cheap tablets the ADOC is rolling out. These are the associated industries that use tax dollars to build the complexes but then exploit them for every bloodsucking penny they can collect as ransom from families. And let’s not forget the biggest prize of them all: the free labor and the factories that will produce hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods and services every year. These profit motives render the dissent of citizens as irrelevant.
It is this greed that is causing so many problems, claiming so many lives and contributing to the public health crisis we are facing because we have an outdated ideology running an outdated prison system.
From a humanitarian perspective, the ADOC was a failed institution before COVID-19 hit. Since the pandemic arrived, everything has gotten worse. For those of us living the nightmare, we don’t see how new prisons that will house more people for the next 30 years will make anything better. We haven’t heard how the new prisons plan to deal with the existing problems. Nor have we heard how the new prisons will help us deal with the traumas we are experiencing in the current system. From a practical standpoint, all we can see from the inside is how these new facilities are nothing more than our next death camps; the places they’ll send us to die over the next 30 years. We do not want a $3 billion dollar casket. No New Prisons !!!
We reach these conclusions based on what we are witnessing, experiencing and living through on a day-to-day basis. Under Commissioner Jefferson Dunn’s leadership and his “culture of violence”, the ADOC is now the murder capital of the entire State of Alabama, and the murder capital over all prison systems in the nation. It was not like this before he arrived, and there were at least 6 thousand more people in the system in 2015 than there are now. Commissioner Dunn’s officers are routinely on the news for sexually assaulting or beating men and women to death. There are also weekly news reports of officers arrested for attempting to bring drugs into the prisons, drug overdose deaths, suicides, etc. Alabama’s prisons are so infested with drugs, that drug overdose deaths are now deemed “natural causes” on death certificates.
The U.S. Department of Justice states in a July 2020 Investigation Report that Commissioner Jefferson Dunn maintains control of the ADOC through a “culture of violence.” Every single person in ADOC custody has been harmed by this “culture of violence.” Our concern is that this “culture of violence” is transferable, and building new prisons will only transfer a humanitarian crisis into the new communities instead of solving historic, systemic, racial and cultural problems that have plagued the Alabama prison system since after the Civil War.
Since October 2019, ADOC correctional officers have beaten at least four men to death and gassed a fifth person to death. At the same time, the ADOC leads the nation in homicide rates, while ranking among national leaders in suicide, drug overdose, and COVID-19 death rates in its prisons. This is what a “culture of violence” and corruption will get you. The Alabama Department of Corrections is a place where death occurs frequently. New prisons won’t solve these old problems.
On January 30, 2021, correctional officers beat two men so severely that they had to be ambulance and air-lifted to a hospital just to save their lives. One week later, on February 8-9, in a 12-hour span two more lives were cut short by the “culture of violence.” A third person, over 70 years old and posing absolutely no threat to society whatsoever, died as well.
All of this leads to a great amount of trauma, stress, and other challenges associated with living in an environment like this every day. Many of us are released back into society carrying these invisible and untreated injuries with us. We have yet to see how the $3 billion dollar prison plan will address these longstanding and traumatic injuries.
There are also additional problems that three new prisons will bring to their new communities. For example,
• Officer Matthew Moore, 50, was a serial rapist employed by ADOC for over a decade. Moore was convinced on multiple counts in Georgia, including aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and aggravated assault after kidnapping and raping several women. Authorities also state they have DNA evidence implicating Moore in additional sex crimes in Alabama and Florida.
• Over 70 correctional officers arrested for drug trafficking or other attempts to transport illegal contraband throughout Alabama communities and into a prison
• In 2014, the US DOJ found that over a 20-year period, at least half of all correctional officers who worked at Tutwiler Women’s Prison sexually assaulted the women incarcerated there. No criminal charges were filed and not a single officer was arrested. Many of these sexual predators will be roaming around the new communities undetected.
In addition, there are public health issues that routinely emanate from the prisons: ADOC’s abysmal health and safety record, including its Covid-19 response; frequent outbreaks of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and scabies. We are awaiting word of how these new prisons are being designed to deal with pandemics, epidemics, and other widespread infections that threaten closed populations. We don’t see any plan to protect our lives or the lives of those in the communities where we reside in today’s prisons, and we don’t see one in the plans for tomorrow’s prisons either.
The State of Alabama does not need new prisons to address its current prison crisis; instead, Alabama needs to identify the laws, policies and practices that led to the crisis. This starts with historical facts that connect the prison system to the institution of slavery, especially Article 1, Sec. 32 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 . Article 1, Section 32 of the Alabama Constitution contains the provision that created an exception to the complete abolition of slavery, by preserving slavery as punishment for crime. This new form of slavery would be managed and ran by the prison system. Following passage of this law, Alabama prisons began filling up with Black bodies and became work camps under slave-like conditions for people convicted of a crime.
Then there is Alabama’s habitual felony offender act , a law that has been used to fill up Alabama prisons to the point where we now have the most overcrowded, underfunded, and corrupt system in the nation. Historical data evidences a need for social and racial justice in the Alabama Criminal Justice system, especially with the death penalty being disproportionately used against poor Black people, and the fact that over 70% of all people sentenced to life without parole under the habitual offender law are Black. These and other historical issues extend beyond the prison walls and must be addressed by the Alabama Legislature. This includes removing funds from ADOC’s budget and redirecting those funds towards healing, rebuilding, and rehabilitating those injured by the current system.
Neither Governor Ivey nor any other state leader can show us proof of any improvements made to the ADOC over the past 30 years that justify committing an additional 3 billion dollars to the system for another 30 years. However, the arc of human history shows unequivocally the ability of human beings to evolve, get better and reach higher stages of evolution in life if given the resources and a chance. So why are we going backwards by building new prisons before we first invest in people?
An Inside Perspective on Governor Kay Ivey’s plan to build new prisons.