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The Worst Prisons in the State of Alabama

Alabama is home to some of the most notorious and dangerous prisons in the United States. Overcrowding, understaffing, gang violence and poor living conditions plague many Alabama correctional facilities. This article takes a look at some of the worst state prisons in Alabama.

Donaldson Correctional Facility

Donaldson Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison located in Bessemer, Alabama. The prison first opened in 1982 and houses around 1,500 inmates. Donaldson has a long history of violence and poor conditions.

In 2019, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into Donaldson after finding reasonable cause to believe conditions at the prison violated the Constitution. Issues identified in the investigation included overcrowding, understaffing, excessive force by staff and unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

The prison has also seen high profile murders over the years. In 2001, an inmate was strangled to death by his cellmate. In 2018, a correctional officer was stabbed to death by an inmate at the facility.

St. Clair Correctional Facility

St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama is ranked as one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. The maximum security prison opened in 1983 and houses around 1,300 inmates.

In 2014, a national study found that St. Clair had the highest homicide rate of any prison in the country. The same year, a federal lawsuit alleged the prison provided inadequate healthcare and failed to protect inmates from violence and sexual assault.

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Since 2010, at least six corrections officers have been killed by inmates at St. Clair. The most recent was in 2019 when an officer was stabbed to death by an inmate. Like many Alabama prisons, St. Clair is plagued by understaffing, overcrowding and an inability to control the inmate population.

Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women

The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is Alabama’s primary female correctional facility. Located in Wetumpka, the prison houses around 900 inmates in a space designed for just 400.

In 2014, a Department of Justice investigation uncovered a toxic, sexualized environment at Tutwiler. The DOJ report said officials at the prison demonstrated “deliberate indifference” towards sexual abuse and harassment of inmates.

Federal investigators found women at Tutwiler lived “in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior.” Abuse by staff and fellow inmates was common and severely underreported. These issues contributed to Tutwiler being called one of the worst prisons for women in the nation.

Bibb Correctional Facility

Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama is a medium security prison notorious for violence and disorder amongst inmates. Bibb was built in 1998 and houses around 1,500 prisoners.

In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Alabama over conditions at Bibb Correctional Facility. The lawsuit alleged the understaffed prison was effectively run by gangs and provided no safe housing for vulnerable inmates.

According to the lawsuit, Bibb was “the most dangerous medium or minimum security prison in Alabama.” Between 2012 and 2016, at least seven inmates were killed at Bibb. The prison also had one of the highest rates of reported sexual assaults in the state.

Fountain Correctional Facility

Fountain Correctional Facility is a medium security prison located in Atmore, Alabama. The prison opened in 1983 and houses around 1,300 inmates.

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In 2011, the Equal Justice Initiative filed a class action suit against Fountain for subjecting mentally ill prisoners to cruel, inhumane treatment. Evidence showed inmates were subjected to excessive force, prolonged solitary confinement and denial of medical care.

In 2020, a 49-year old inmate with a brain injury died at Fountain after being found unresponsive in a hot show cell. The man was under a heat restriction but left in a small cell for hours without air conditioning. His death prompted outrage over the treatment of prisoners at Fountain.

Violence and Disorder in the Alabama Prison System

Many Alabama prisons have been plagued by violence, understaffing, overcrowding and substandard living conditions for years. Criminal justice reform advocates have called for improving conditions and reducing incarceration rates in the state.

However, problems in the prison system continued mounting over the last decade. The situation reached a breaking point in 2019 when the Department of Justice released a scathing report on the dangers faced by inmates and staff across Alabama prisons.

The DOJ concluded there was reasonable cause to believe conditions in men’s prisons violated the Constitution due to high levels of violence, drugs, weapons and sexual abuse. Here is a timeline of some of the major incidents that led to the federal investigation:

January 2017An inmate at William C. Holman Correctional Facility was stabbed and killed during a riot. At least two other inmates were stabbed during the altercation which involved around 100 prisoners.
February 2017Three corrections officers were stabbed at Donaldson Correctional Facility while trying to break up a fight between inmates.
March 2017Prisoner rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections over the failure to protect inmates from physical and sexual violence in prisons.
July 2017correctional officer Kenneth Bettis was fatally stabbed by an inmate at Donaldson Correctional Facility.
September 2018An inmate died at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility after being assaulted by another prisoner.
October 2018The Department of Justice announced an investigation into whether conditions in Alabama’s male prisons violate the Constitution.
November 2018A corrections officer was stabbed and seriously injured by an inmate at St. Clair Correctional Facility.
April 2019The Department of Justice releases findings that excessive levels of violence, sexual abuse, weapons and drugs in Alabama prisons likely violate the Constitution.
May 2019An inmate is stabbed to death at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility after a fight involving over 20 prisoners.
June 2019A man commits suicide at Kilby Correctional Facility just days before he was scheduled to be released.
November 2019Five male inmates are killed in incidents across three Alabama prisons within just eight days.
December 2019A 24-year-old inmate is stabbed to death at St. Clair Correctional Facility during a fight between gang members.

The timeline shows the ongoing danger and disorder within Alabama’s prisons. The federal investigation concluded what advocates and inmates had claimed for years – Alabama prisons were failing to protect individuals in their custody from violence and sexual abuse.

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The Alabama Department of Corrections faces major challenges in reforming its troubled prison system. Severe overcrowding, understaffing and poor living conditions have contributed to an environment where violence proliferates behind bars.

Alabama prisons need major changes to reduce incarceration levels, improve staff training and oversight, and ensure all individuals are housed in safe, humane and constitutional conditions. Successfully reforming the prison system requires buy-in from lawmakers, officials and the public.

Sustainable change will take years to accomplish. However, Alabama has a moral and constitutional duty to act now to address the critical failures within its prisons. The health, safety and human rights of inmates and corrections staff depend on Alabama taking bold action to resolve this crisis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main problems in Alabama’s prisons?

The main problems plaguing Alabama prisons include severe overcrowding, understaffing, deteriorating facilities, lack of oversight, pervasive contraband weapons/drugs and an inability to stop inmate-on-inmate violence.

Why are Alabama prisons so overcrowded?

Alabama prisons are extremely overcrowded mainly due to high incarceration rates, tough sentencing laws, and insufficient investment in new facilities. Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the US.

Are all Alabama prisons considered dangerous?

No, not all Alabama prisons are considered extremely dangerous. The Department of Justice investigation focused on male maximum security facilities where violence is most pervasive. Some lower security prisons have fewer issues with violence and disorder.

What does the Department of Justice say is wrong with Alabama prisons?

A 2019 DOJ investigation found reasonable cause to believe conditions in men’s prisons violate the Constitution. Issues identified include understaffing, overcrowding, excessive violence, drugs/contraband weapons, sexual abuse and use of excessive force by staff.

What steps is Alabama taking to fix its prisons?

Alabama is proposing measures like new prison construction, increased hiring/training of officers, expanding rehabilitation programs, restricting contraband and updating surveillance/security systems. However, long-term funding issues continue hindering reform efforts.

Prison Inside Team

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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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