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Prison Study Commission hears from critics of the state’s prison system

Jail cells with the doors closed at a histororic idaho prison

Wednesday, the Governor’s Prison Study Commission met in Montgomery to hear criticism of the Alabama Department of Corrections from inmate advocates.

“In the last ten months 13 inmates have been murdered,” former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D). It takes 34 states combined to equal that number. “22 individuals in the last two years have died from overdoses on synthetic marijuana.”

Cobb claimed that six Department of Corrections officers above the rank of sergeant have been arrested or fired for corruption.

“DOC has to come up with a plan to ferret out the corruption and the drugs and those two things are related,” Cobb said. “Community corrections is up from 1200 to 4500. Judges are using it, but the state has not invested enough in them.”

Cobb said that, “Quality low cost drug rehabilitation is absolutely essential to making our prisons safer.”

The Pardons and Paroles Board has basically eliminated all the gains that have been made in the reduction of prison overcrowding,” Cobb said.

Cobb asked the Commission to issue guidelines for parole recommend the expansion of drug courts, community corrections, and services for inmates.

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Cobb was a 2018 candidate for governor of Alabama; but lost the Democratic nomination to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox.

Attorney Donna Wesson Smalley said that Alabama’s inmates are sometimes being treated worse by the state of Alabama than the crimes that they committed to get put in prison.

“Two wrongs never make a right that is what my Mother always taught me,” Smalley said.

Smalley said that the Commission should require that, “Body cameras be worn by every prison employee from the moment they clock in to the moment they clock out.”

Smalley attacked the recent assertion by Pardons and Paroles Board Director Charlie Graddick that addressing prison overcrowding is not one of the goals of the Boad.

“He is incorrect that is specifically one of the goals of Pardons and Paroles,” Smalley said.

Smalley said that denying paroles “Puts us in legal jeopardy.”

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Smalleyu also scoffed at a proposed plan to spend $900 million to build new prisons.

“That is preposterous,” Smalley said.

Donna Wesson Smalley was the 2018 Democratic nominee for Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice. She lost to Jay Mitchell (R) in the general election.

Dianne Caldwell, the wife of current inmate Cordarius Caldwell, addressed the Commission.

“He has been incarcerated for 15 years now,” Mrs. Caldwell said. “Our conversations are very difficult to hear………I cherish each and every phone call from my husband.”

Caldwell said that ADOC prisoners are dying from overdose, homicide, and suicides.

“Every time I hear of another stabbing my heart sinks,” Caldwell said. “I have had a heart attack worrying about what goes on in ADOC and I have gained a lot of weight.”

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Caldwell said that it is also costly to paying for gas for visits to her husband in Elmore County, for phone calls, and for the commissary and that she has had to be responsible for the household while he is locked up.

“I am responsible for all of our family’s finances.” Caldwell said. “When he gets out it will be difficult for him to find jobs.”

Caldwell said that inmates “Do not have access to the rehabilitation, mental health services, and drug treatment needed for them to succeed.”

Caldwell charged that the state has, “Allowed our prisons to descend into chaos and violence.”

Cordarius Caldwell was convicted of murder and intimidation of a witness.

Courtney Davis is the wife of David Davis who was imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter for killing a person in St. Clair County in a head on crash, while driving under the influence of heroin.

Davis charged that he husband is receiving the, “Subpar care of the Alabama Department of Corrections” and needs a surgery to repair injuries sustained in his near fatal car crash. Davis said that that surgery to correct his very large hernias still has not been scheduled. Davis also charged that an ADOC sergeant hit her husband in his extended abdomen (an injury suffered in his car crash) and then said, “I did not hit you that hard.”

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Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told Mrs. Davis that her husband’s surgery has been scheduled for December 11.

A mother whose son was beaten allegedly by ADOC guards in Donaldson prison presented a picture of her son then still clinging to life on his deathbed, before succumbing to his injuries.

The Governor’s Prison Study Commission is chaired by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons (R).

Lyons asked: “How do the drugs get in the prison?”

“We have corrupt officers,” Caldwell said.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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