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The Worst Prisons in Alabama

Alabama has one of the most notorious prison systems in the United States. Overcrowding, understaffing, and violence plague many of the state’s correctional facilities. Here is an overview of some of the worst prisons in Alabama.

William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility

The William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, located in Bessemer, Alabama, is one of the most dangerous prisons in the state. With around 1,500 inmates, the prison suffers from extreme overcrowding. This overcrowding leads to increased tensions and violence among the inmate population. Between January 2021 and September 2022, there were over 200 assaults at the prison, including several homicides. Other issues at Donaldson include contraband drugs, lack of adequate medical care, and understaffing. The poor conditions at this maximum security prison make it one of Alabama’s worst.

St. Clair Correctional Facility

St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville has developed a reputation as the most deadly prison in Alabama. With a capacity of 1,075 inmates, St. Clair experienced an uptick in violence in recent years. Between September 2021 and August 2022, there were 3 inmate homicides at the prison. Contributing factors include understaffing, the presence of prison gangs, and a lack of oversight from correctional officers. In addition to the violence, St. Clair has faced lawsuits over its inadequate medical and mental healthcare. The combined issues of violence, understaffing, and lack of services make St. Clair one of the worst prisons in the state.

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September 2021Inmate homicide from stabbing
December 2021Inmate homicide from stabbing
May 2022Inmate homicide from beating
July 2021Lawsuit filed over lack of mental health treatment
August 2022Lawsuit filed over failure to provide diabetes medication

Holman Correctional Facility

Located in Atmore, Holman Correctional Facility is Alabama’s only maximum security prison. Holman is notoriously overcrowded, operating at nearly double its designed capacity of 637 inmates. prisoner-on-prisoner violence is common at Holman, with multiple homicides and stabbings occurring in recent years. In September 2022 alone, there were over a dozen assaults, including the strangling death of an inmate. Holman also lacks adequate healthcare; the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in 2022 alleging dangerously inadequate mental health staffing and resources. With a violent, overcrowded, and underserved inmate population, Holman is emblematic of the worst prisons in Alabama.

Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women

The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women has been the subject of federal investigations over its sexual abuse and harassment of female inmates. Multiple corrections officers have been implicated in abusing and impregnating inmates at Tutwiler. While Alabama Department of Corrections has instituted reforms, advocacy groups assert ongoing problems at Tutwiler, including poor healthcare, overcrowding, and the threat of sexual victimization. With a legacy of inmate abuse and claims of continued poor conditions, Tutwiler remains one of the worst prisons for women in the United States.

Bibb Correctional Facility

Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama has faced repeated criticism for its neglect and abuse of inmates with mental illnesses. Advocacy groups have documented inadequate mental healthcare, prolonged solitary confinement, and excessive use of force against mentally ill inmates at Bibb. The prison has failed multiple audits of its mental health services. With around 1,500 prisoners, Bibb suffers from overcrowding that exacerbates poor conditions. Correctional officers have also been implicated in the beating death of an inmate at Bibb in 2021. For its systemic failures to humanely care for mentally ill prisoners, Bibb is one of Alabama’s most troubled prisons.

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Key Related Questions

What attempts have been made to reform Alabama prisons?

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has instituted some reforms in recent years to address overcrowding, understaffing, infrastructure failings, and general mismanagement in Alabama’s prisons. ADOC has worked to increase correctional staffing levels, enhance training programs, and implement more rehabilitative and educational programming for inmates. However, systemic issues remain, and advocacy groups argue that court intervention is necessary to force substantial changes in Alabama’s prisons.

In 2022, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Alabama over unconstitutional conditions in men’s prisons. This litigation remains ongoing and may result in mandated reforms. However, enacting the resource-intensive changes needed to humanize Alabama’s prisons will require commitment from state leadership as well as cooperation across political divides.

How does Alabama prison overcrowding compare nationally?

With state prisons operating at over 150% capacity, Alabama has the most overcrowded prison system in the country. Alabama’s prisons hold nearly double the inmates they were designed for. The next closest state is Mississippi with prisons at around 120% capacity.

Severe overcrowding in Alabama prisons contributes to increased violence, rapid spread of illness, and strained resources and infrastructure. Alabama’s prisons are more overcrowded than notorious systems like California’s, which operates at around 135% capacity. Solving overcrowding remains one of the biggest challenges for reforming and improving prisons in Alabama.

What are possible solutions to improving Alabama’s prisons?

There are several measures that could improve conditions in Alabama’s dysfunctional prisons:

  • Reducing overcrowding through parole expansion, reclassification of offenses, diversion programs, earlier release policies, and expanded community corrections.
  • Increasing correctional staffing to alleviate understaffing and improve oversight.
  • Upgrading outdated and hazardous prison facilities.
  • Expanding training for COs on de-escalating conflicts and promoting rehabilitation.
  • Increasing mental health resources and care for inmates.
  • Instituting robust internal oversight and external independent monitoring.
  • Strengthening educational, vocational, and re-entry programs to reduce recidivism.
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A combination of downsizing inmate populations, upgrading facilities, and improving staff training is needed for substantive reform. But this requires funding and political will over the long-term.


The Alabama state prison system suffers from a number of systemic failings that have produced some of the worst correctional facilities in America. Severe overcrowding, understaffing, aging infrastructure, lack of healthcare, and unchecked violence have created dangerous conditions in many Alabama prisons. Meaningful long-term solutions will require major investments of resources and political capital. With strong advocacy, public pressure, and commitment from elected leaders, reform of the Alabama prison system is possible. But it will take years of sustained effort to reverse decades of neglect and create humane conditions in Alabama’s prisons. Guards, inmates, and the public all deserve better from the state’s correctional system

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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