A nonprofit legal firm says it will sue the Alabama Department of Corrections if the U.S. Department of Justice decides not to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by correctional officers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative released a report last month that found DOC employees had illegal sexual contact with dozens of women at the Wetumpka facility. The report also said the official responses to these reports of abuse have created an atmosphere of intimidation that discourages future complaints.
The EJI last month asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the situation at the prison, which houses about 709 women in the closed-security portion, and an additional 236 in the medium-security annex building at the site. The Justice Department has said the request was received, but hasn’t indicated whether there would be an investigation.
EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson said there are plans to bring multiple civil cases against the Department of Corrections if there is no federal investigation.
In an effort to address some of the problems at the facility, Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas said he has asked the National Institute of Corrections to audit the prison, which involves touring the facility, talking with staff and inmates and reviewing internal policies, to help address the allegations.
“These are not issues unique to Alabama. It’s a concern to every correctional administrator,” Thomas said. “We’re doing as much as we possibly can to combat this issue.”
Thomas said he’s reviewing the investigation process from start to finish, and will examine the policy of putting women in segregation and taking away privileges during an investigation.
The commissioner also asked two of his PREA coordinators, who are responsible for making sure the Department of Corrections is in compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, to look at how investigations are conducted when abuse is reported.