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DOJ Report on Tutwiler Does Not Include Improvements

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—A year ago last week, the Alabama Department of Corrections’ Commissioner Kim Thomas stood before a group of journalists, legislators, government officials and concerned citizens to release the findings from a study by the National Institute of Corrections, (NIC) into conditions at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.

Commissioner Thomas had requested the study after accusations were made by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), in what it alleged were, “frequent and severe officer-on-inmate sexual violence.”

One month after the EJI had filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, Thomas requested the exhaustive study be undertaken by NIC.

NIC is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons that, “provide[s] training, technical assistance, information services, and policy/program development assistance to federal, state, and local corrections agencies.”

Thomas, along with Governor Robert Bentley, pledged at the time of the EJI, that the administration would not cover-up or whitewash any finding at the women’s prison.

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The Governor also promised to do what was necessary to ensure the safety of the inmates and staff at the women’s facility.

NIC conducted its investigation on the conditions at Tutiwiler and issued a report to the ALDOC in November 2012. NIC made a recommendation of 58 action items for the ALDOC.

According to Thomas, “To date, 57 of those directives have been completed.”

None of these action items were taken into consideration in the DOJ damning report. This is because the DOJ conducted their four-day inspection of Tutwiler before the action plan was concluded by NIC an agency under their auspice.

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“In January 2013, before the DOJ ever expressed an interest in investigating Tutwiler, I directed that an action plan be created detailing what we would do to change Tutwiler and make it safer for the women residing there,” said Thomas.

The Justice Department said in their report, “For nearly two decades, Tutwiler staff have harmed women in their care with impunity by sexually abusing and sexually harassing them.”

The report makes it appear that for over 20 years nothing has been done to address the problems at the woman’s facility.

This statement by the DOJ ignores some important history surrounding Tutiwiler.

In the 2002 case LAUBE v. CAMPBELL, great attention was brought to bare on the conditions at Tutiwiler and other women’s prison facilities across the State.

In LAUBE v. CAMPBELL:

“The plaintiffs originally filed this lawsuit in August 2002. Broadly speaking, the court would characterize their allegations as follows: that because of conditions at the three state prison facilities…female inmates are being denied their basic human needs of adequate living space, ventilation, and personal safety and security… female inmates are at a real and substantial risk of injury, prolonged illness, and premature death; and that the defendants have acted with deliberate indifference to the existence of these conditions,” according to a summary of case provided by

http://www.leagle.com.

“After the hearing on the conditions at the woman’s facilities, Judge Myron H. Thompson, wrote, “In July 2004, at the time of the fairness hearing, the court observed substantial improvements in the conditions at Tutwiler. These improvements are testimony to the work of Warden Deese, and the court has full confidence that, in accordance with the provisions of the settlement agreements, she will build on her notable success.”

That the DOJ would ignore Justice Thompson, 2004, opinion, and not take into consideration the improvements since 2013, casts a suspicious shadow on the Department of Justice’s finding.

DOJ officials conducted their investigation at Tutwiler during a four-day visit in April 2013. At which time they interviewed inmates, staff, and review document and staff polices.

A woman who was an inmate at Tutwiler one year prior to the EJI complaint said that the conditions at Tutwiler were insufferable, but that the sexual activities in the woman’s prison differed little and even less than other facilities in which she had been incarcerated.

A repeat drug offender since the age of 16, Deb as she will be called for her statements said, “The worst part of Tutwiler, was the emotional abuse.” She said there were correctional officers (CO) who really cared, but there were a few that were, “Mean as hell, you were afraid [of them] all the time.” Deb, said in her year a Tutwiler she never witness or even heard rumors of COs raping inmates. She did say that there were woman who did sleep with COs to gain, “lighter duties, or special treatment.”

“You could tell the ones who had something going on with the guards,” they [The CO] would visit them in their bunks, they would flirt, it was disgusting.”

She said, there was “plenty” of consensual and some non-consensual sex involving inmate-on-inmate.

“It’s part of the prison life, for some,” she said.

She said, that the women were treated harshly, “But we weren’t in prison because we were little princesses.”

Of the DOJ report, she agreed with much of it but added, “Women in prison lie, imagine that?”

According to the ALDOC the justice department was granted three days of private interviews with Tutwiler inmates.

In their finding, the DOJ said that, “inappropriate sexual behavior, including sexual abuse, continues, and is grossly underreported.”

However, Thomas said that when the DOJ conducted their interview at Turwiler he asked “to be notified of any current inappropriate staff-inmate relationships discovered.” According to Thomas, the DOJ never informed him or anyone at the department of corrections about any current inappropriate staff-inmate relationships.

Sexuality in prison is a topic not widely discussed in the press or for that matter by society in general. But it would be foolish to imagine humans living in such close conditions without a certain degree of sexual interaction.

A study entitled, “Sex and Sexuality in Women’s Prisons: A Preliminary Typological Investigation,” published in The Prison Journal 2011, takes a clinical look at sexual relation within the prison system. The study explains the three principle forms of sexual violence in female correctional institutions: (a) manipulation, (b) compliance, and (c) coercion…Manipulation occurs when sex is used as a bartering tool. It is a quid pro quo relationship in which sexual favors are exchanged for goods (e.g., drugs, cigarettes) and/or services (e.g., special work detail or cell assignment)…Compliance occurs when a female incarcerate reluctantly but obediently participates in a sexual relationship with another convict or correctional worker of some perceived or real standing and/or influence.”

The study says that compliance may, “take place because of fear, a need for safety or protection, or to avoid victimization.”

The authors point out that sexual coercion may range from, “overt pressure to engage in sexual contact, to sexual assault, and even to forcible rape.” Coercion may to perpetrated in a “prisoner-on-prisoner relationship or a correctional officer–on–female incarcerate relationship.”

The DOJ report says that, “staff member, contractor, or volunteers [at Tutwiler]… have coerced prisoners to engage in oral sex…engaged in voyeurism, forcing women to disrobe and watching them while they use the shower and use the toilet. Staff [has] sexually harass women, subjecting them to a daily barrage of sexually explicit verbal abuse.”

Again Thomas says that the changes that have taken place over the last year are not reflected in the DOJ report. As part of the 58-point action plan Thomas says, extensive staff training related to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and gender responsiveness, has occurred and is on-going. The plan to equip Tutwiler with more than 300 security and monitoring cameras is funded and exhaustive training for investigators—in an effort to enhance the prosecution of wrongdoers—has been conducted.

“We have taken significant steps in the last year to improve the safety and living conditions of the women housed at Tutwiler,” said Thomas. He also says he is committed to the continued improvement to all of the State’s correctional facilities.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Crime

Inmate assault injures two St. Clair prison correctional officers

The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two correctional officers at St. Clair Correctional Facility were injured in an inmate-on-officer assault on Monday, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed to APR.

Among the two officers who sustained non-life-threatening injuries was a basic correctional officer (BCO), a position created in May 2019, who are not Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOST) certified and who have some limitations on working directly with inmates without correctional officers present.

The other officer injured was a full correctional officer, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose told APR in a message Friday. The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries and subsequently released, according to Rose.

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the actions taken by the inmate against ADOC staff are being thoroughly investigated,” Rose said. “As the investigation into this incident is ongoing, we cannot provide additional detail at this time. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation.”

The ADOC created the new basic correctional officer position to bolster the state’s woefully understaffed prisons. The creation of the position was also at the suggestion of experts ordered by a federal court to study the department’s staffing problems, ADOC attorneys wrote to the court in a filing in 2019.

The ongoing lawsuit is over the state’s handling of mental health in prisons.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in June argued that ADOC was far behind on the court-ordered hiring new additional officers. It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a previous opinion wrote that prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.”

“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued.

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The SPLC in court filings late last year expressed concern over the use of basic correctional officers in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons. ADOC attorneys have argued to the court, however, that BCO’s are adequately trained to do their jobs and are needed for the department to hire the necessary number of officers per the court’s timeline.

In a court filing on Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the court not to again delay site visits to Alabama prisons by two experts who are tasked by the court to determine which positions should be filled by correctional officers and which by BCO’s and which by another new position, called cubical correctional officers, who are to have no direct interaction with inmates.

Those visits were to begin in May, but both parties in the suit agree to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it posed to the experts, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to “age and other factors,” according to court records.

Both parties again agreed to postpone those visits in June for those same reasons, those records show. ADOC seeks a third extension but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the experts can visit the prisons while keeping themselves, prison staff and inmates safe from harm of COVID-19 and that thousands of employees and contractors enter Alabama prisons daily.

The plaintiff’s attorneys argue in the court filing that the expert guidance is needed because ADOC wishes to use BCO’s and cubical correctional officers to comply with the court-ordered hiring of additional staff by Feb. 20, 2022.

“Ensuring adequate staffing is of upmost importance to address the constitutional violations underlying mental health care within ADOC,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court Thursday.

ADOC in May was employing 494 BCO’s, a 57 percent increase in the number of BCO’s employed in Oct. 2019, according to ADOC’s staffing numbers. The number of correctional officers working in Alabama prisons fell by two percent during that time, dropping from 1,319 to 1,287.

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Elections

Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action

Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours. 

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action. 

On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours. 

Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters. 

“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”

In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office. 

However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase. 

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In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times. 

“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”

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Elections

Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum

“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”

On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.

“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”

“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”

“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”

“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”

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Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.

“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”

Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.

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Elections

Tuberville says election is about “the American dream”

“It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us,” Tuberville claimed.

Brandon Moseley

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Thursday, Tommy Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest asking Madison County voters to support him and re-elect Donald J. Trump Tuesday.

The former Auburn University head football Coach told the estimated crowd of 350 that, “It is great to be here. This has been a lot of fun for me. Two years ago, my wife and I started to pray on whether or not to run. When we decided to run, she said don’t come back until you win.”

“This is a very serious election,” Tuberville said. “This is not about Donald Trump. It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us.”

“I always told my players this: this country gives you the opportunity to fail and if you fail you get back up and try again,” Tuberville said. “When I was growing up in Arkansas I wanted to be a college football coach. People in high school laughed at me for it and people in college. It takes perseverance.”

Tuberville said that this country gives you the opportunity to succeed, more so than any other country in the world. Most of the rest of the world is socialist.

Tuberville warned that the other side is trying to turn America into a socialist country.

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“We are not going to let them ruin this country,” Tuberville vowed.

The 2020 Madison County GOP Freedom Fest was held at the brand new Toyota Field, the new home of the Huntsville Trash Pandas minor league baseball team.

Tuberville praised President Trump whom “I have gotten to know through all of this and we have become friends. He never slows down; and he is sharp as a tack.”

Tuberville said that the President once called him at 2:30 in the morning, “He said sleep is overrated.”

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To protect the American dream we need to vote on Tuesday to keep the Senate and get Donald Trump re-elected.”

Tuberville said that he has spoken with, “A lot of people who as nervous as I am about Tuesday.” Coach Tuberville, who is being outspent, urged the crowd to ignore all of the television ads by his opponent, incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D).

Tuberville vowed to defend the Second Amendment if elected, “They ain’t getting my guns….or your guns.”

“We need to get God back in our schools and teach values again,” Tuberville stated. “The other side does not talk about values and morals.”

We are not going to allow them to tear down our country,” Tuberville said. “God will not allow them.”

“We are going to get God back in our country like it is supposed to be,” Tuberville said.

Coach Tuberville was introduced to the crowd by State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville).

Scofield said that he “is ready to send Doug Jones back to California.”

“Yes I know he is actually from here; but he sure votes like California. He certainly doesn’t vote like the vast majority of the people of Alabama want him to vote.”

Scofield called Tuberville is “A fighter” who will stand up for the values of the people of Alabama.

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”

“Do we believe in freedom and liberty or do we believe in socialism?” Brooks said. “We need to beat them like a drum.”

The general election is on Tuesday. You must bring a valid photo ID with you to your assigned polling place in order to participate.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill predicted that the state would have record participation on Tuesday.

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