Alabama prisons

Alabama’s prison system has been in the news a lot this year, and not for good reasons. Inmate riots, allegations of mismanagement and corruption, and a failed prison building plan in the state legislature have pointed out plenty of problems. The Alabama Public Radio news team has spent the past several months examining what happens as people go into the state’s prison system and what happens when they come out. This week, I examine what the State of Alabama does when people are convicted of crimes they didn’t do. Critics say, not much…

Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the conditions at Alabama’s state prisons.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley released a statement yesterday sharing the Justice Department’s letter, and saying he welcomes a federal investigation into the state’s prisons. Bentley says both he and the DoJ share a common goal of wanting to improve the safety of officers and inmates in Alabama’s prisons. He also says past meetings with DoJ officials resulted in major improvements at the state’s Tutwiler Prison for Women.

Stan Ingold

For many prisoners at the Limestone Correctional Facility, the heavy bang of a steel gate is the first thing they hear when they enter the Alabama prison system. It’s also the last thing when they come out.

         “They give you a bus ticket and a check for ten dollars and they say “Have a nice life.”

That’s Brenda Lee Kennedy. She was incarcerated in the Montgomery Work Release Center for nearly five and half years before being released in November of last year.

Holman Correctional Facility
Sharon Steinmann / AP

Alabama Department of Corrections officials say a state prison was placed on lockdown yesterday after inmates set a fire inside a dorm.

A statement from the department says officers at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. responded to a fight between inmates yesterday afternoon around 3 p.m. Other inmates then reportedly "became aggressive" toward the guards responding to the fight. The statement says officers secured the door of the dorm, and some inmates inside started a fire.

The Alabama legislative session is over. Lawmakers have returned home, but some say very little was accomplished. APR’s MacKenzie Bates talks to one legislator who says there is still a lot work to do.

Lawmakers ended the session without agreeing a on a variety of issues like Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's prison construction proposal, how the state should spend the BP settlement from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the lack of money to fund the state’s Medicaid program.

Alabama State Capitol
Stan Ingold / APR

Alabama lawmakers are beginning the final two days of the legislative session with some major decisions before them.

Governor Robert Bentley's $800 million prison construction plan, proposed payday lending regulations and a division of oil spill settlement funds are among the top issues that will be decided. Lawmakers return to Montgomery Tuesday.   

 A proposed split of the oil spill settlement money is facing critical votes this week. The Senate will consider a House-passed plan to use the money to pay state debts and for road projects in coastal Alabama

Lawmakers will reconvene in Montgomery today for the final five days of the current legislative session, with a lot of work left to do.

Dozens of high-profile bills will be considered this week. One issue still in the air is Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s $800 million bond issue that would close most of the existing state prison facilities in favor of four new large prisons. The bill has cleared the Senate but still faces a floor vote in the House.

Holman Correctional Facility
Sharon Steinmann / AP

The violence continues at a prison in south Alabama. APR’s Pat Duggins has more on the latest incident, and how it appears to be following a pattern.

The state Corrections Department says an inmate was stabbed by another prisoner at the Holman Correctional Facility.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

The next session for Alabama’s state legislature will convene at noon today.

State lawmakers are starting the 2016 session on Groundhog Day to some very familiar budget issues, but there will likely be some new debates as well.

A public meeting was held in Perry County last night about an outbreak of tuberculosis. APR’s MacKenzie Bates has the latest about the ongoing efforts to contain the respiratory disease.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health took questions about tuberculosis for about an hour at Francis-Marion High School. Officials say 26 people have been diagnosed with tuberculosis within the last year, 20 of which are from Marion. The illness has resulted in three deaths.

The city of Selma is preparing to remember the fiftieth anniversary of the attack known as "Bloody Sunday".

Today also marks fifty years since the funeral of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. His death at the hands of an Alabama State Police Trooper is considered one of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Selma to help organize the voting rights marches.

Vera Jenkins Booker was the nurse that tended to Jackson when he was brought in to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma.

Alabama became the 37th state to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday.

Couples throughout Alabama have been applying for – and receiving – marriage licenses. But some judges are refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite the threat of steep penalties.

Meredith Bagley and Alexandrea Davenport, both faculty at the University of Alabama, were married in Vermont five years ago, but they wanted to get an Alabama marriage license now that same-sex marriage is legal.

But when they went in to apply at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse yesterday morning?

The Alabama Prison Reform Task Force is currently considering a slate of recommendations from the Council of State Governments to address Alabama's poorly performing prisons.

Some of their suggestions include hiring more probation officers and creating a new, lesser felony class for low-level offenses.

The Task Force estimates that proposed changes should reduce Alabama's prison population from 200% capacity down to 162% by 2021.

This week is National School Choice Week. Supporters of classroom options will be joined by Civil Rights leaders for a rally in Montgomery today which more than two thousand people are expected to attend.

Marchers are demanding law makers protect and expand K-through-12 educational choices for children and familes. Sonya DiCarlo is the Director of Communications for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. She says children are not all the same.

  Governor Robert Bentley says there are no easy solutions to the state's budget and prison problems. Bentley, in his second inaugural address, said state leaders face tough decisions as they come into office for the next four years. However, Bentley said state leaders will not shrink away from the challenge.

     A budget shortfall and the state's severely overcrowded prisons are expected to be the biggest problems facing the Legislature when it convenes in March. The governor is expected to give his proposals when he gives his State of the State address in March.


Alabama Department of Corrections

Alabama's prison system paid $20.8 million in overtime last year, with 14 percent going to one prison. reports that employees of Donaldson Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Jefferson County, received about $2.9 million in overtime pay. That averages about $8,873 per employee.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristi Gates says the prison system uses overtime to supplement chronic staffing shortages. Gates says Donaldson prison has 8.4 inmates for every one officer. The overtime pay reduces the ratio to 6.9.


Two advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the Alabama prison system, claiming the state is failing to provide basic medical and mental health care to inmates.

Attorney Maria Morris of the Southern Poverty Law Center says a lack of adequate medical care is causing inmate suffering and even deaths.

The SPLC and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Center filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Montgomery on behalf of about 40 inmates.

Office of the Governor of Alabama

Alabama Department of Corrections officials are refuting a report by a human rights organization that criticizes health care in state prisons.

Department Commissioner Kim Thomas said in a statement Wednesday the state is proud of the health care it offers inmates and that care provided in state institutions is better than what's available to most uninsured Alabamians.

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center said the state fails to give inmates a humane level of medical care and disabled prisoners face discrimination.

The Associated Press

A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley says he's supportive of $250,000 added to the state General Fund budget for hiring a prison ombudsman in the governor's office.

Senate budget committee Chairman Arthur Orr added the money to the General Fund budget when his committee approved it on Wednesday. Orr says the ombudsman would start by focusing on complaints from inmates at Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka. Some inmates at Tutwiler have complained about sexual abuse. Orr says the ombudsman would give the governor a direct line to what's going on in Tutwiler.

A new federal study says Alabama's imprisonment rate ranks third highest in the nation.

   The study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says Alabama imprisoned 650 people per 100,000 state residents in 2012. Louisiana ranked first at 893 people per 100,000 residents and Mississippi was second at 717 per 100,000. Maine had the lowest rate at 145 people per 100,000 residents. The national average was 480 per 100,000.

Allegations of inmate abuse at Alabama's female prison and an inmate being beaten to death at a male prison have pointed to a lack of security cameras in state prisons.

   Testimony in a federal court trial in Montgomery has noted the lack of cameras to record what happened on the night inmate Rocrast Mack was beaten and stomped at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton. Allegations of inmate abuse at Tutwiler Prison for Women led to a federal report pointing out the need for cameras. The Legislature voted recently to fund cameras for Tutwiler.

The Associated Press

The Alabama Legislature has approved a compromise General Fund budget that increases funding for courts and prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing a new policy that requires Alabama prison visitors to have their fingerprints scanned.

David Fathi of the ACLU's National Prison Project tells the Montgomery Advertiser ( ) the new rule is "extreme."

Fathi says no other state has such a requirement. He says it's a barrier to people visiting state prisoners.

Prison spokesman Brian Corbett says the policy began last month as the department upgraded its computer systems.