With news of the closing of Holman prison after many years of civil and human rights violations caused by overflowing raw sewage, lack of clean running water, and many other structural issues, many of the men incarcerated there and their families are anxious about where their loved ones will be transferred to and how they will be impacted by these changes. These men will be adjusting to new locations and new environments, as will the men at the prisons where these 600 individuals will be arriving at.
Many are pondering how this influx of more bodies will affect the already distressed and overcrowded prison system. Also, there are unique challenges and psychological issues that will have to be factored into this process. One, for example, is the fact that Holman was an open-bay style prison, where there was no restraint of movement in the living quarters. Now, these men will be housed in prisons with cells that they will now have to share with another person, sometimes for days at a time. This will increase anxiety and tension, with results that we won’t know about for some time. Many of these men from Holman who have been locked up for a long time have never shared a cell with another human being. This will be a major adjustment for many.
Another concern that some have expressed is the question of violence. As in, what is the ADOC’s plan to address issues that arise when men come into contact with people they have not seen in a while but have unresolved beefs with? What type of indicators will the ADOC be looking for to get out in front of issues instead of being reactive to them? The ADOC already can’t address violence caused by overcrowding and limited resources. What are they going to do when an already crowded system becomes even more crowded? Finally, who is going to be held accountable if this plan doesn’t work?
For the people from the southern part of the State, many families will now have to travel to Donaldson or St. Clair or even Limestone to visit their loved ones. This will pose an additional strain and financial burden on families who can least afford it. Men who had become accustomed to regular visits, which helps with rehabilitation and staying connected to family, will now be dealing with this additional frustration. With visitation and communication with family being a proven means of effective rehabilitation, the impact of separation is not going to be easy to detect.
The Prison Study Group also released its recommendations right after the announcement of this closure. Many people feel as though this closure was done with very little foresight into the impact that this abrupt change will have on the issues currently affecting Alabama prisons. Also, the fact that the Study Group’s report was not done in anticipation of these new developments appears to render the report as just another waste of taxpayer funds. In addition, the Study Group report was anticlimactic to the people on the inside who were looking for change and real solutions. Again, though, the report made clear that the solutions will have to come from the Inside — the one segment that was excluded from the process.
In the short term, it’s too early to tell what the full impact will be. With reports of beds being erected in gymnasiums, which will reduce recreation time, the prospects for heightened tensions are a realistic expectation. The organizations and individuals who are leading the calls for change to the ADOC have to become more hands on and reiterate their demands for access to the people on the inside of these prisons. If overcrowding caused the infrastructure of Holman to wear down, then this move seems calculated to tear down more infrastructure in order to justify building news prisons.
We will be updating on this concern as it develops with the hope that the men are wise enough to turn this into a positive opportunity to be heard now that there is one less prison that has to be reached in order to organize for change.