The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating the death of an inmate as a possible suicide, a department spokeswoman confirmed to APR on Thursday.
Travis Jackson, 43, was found unresponsive on his cell at the Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore on Feb. 9, ADOC spokeswoman Kristi Simpson said in a message to APR.
“His exact cause of death is pending the results of a full autopsy. As the ADOC’s investigation into Jackson’s death is ongoing, we cannot provide additional details at this time,” Simpson said.
APR received a tip about the death from longtime Alabama journalist Beth Shelburne, who conducts investigative reporting for the ACLU of Alabama and other outlets. Shelburne sent ADOC a request for information about Jackson’s death on Feb 22 and got no response, Shelburne told APR. She has focused much of her work in recent years on Alabama’s troubled prison system.
“This is one of dozens of unanswered emails I have sent to ADOC’s public information office in the last few months, mostly about in-custody deaths,” Shelburne said. “Of course, reporting on those deaths makes ADOC look very bad, so I can understand why they wouldn’t want to answer me, but there has to be some accountability. That’s why I share the info with other reporters because it’s nothing personal, it is in the public interest when people are dying from homicide, suicide and overdoses in state prisons at record numbers.”
The U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 9 sued the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by prison guards.
Filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Alabama, the complaint states that the DOJ on April 2, 2019, notified the state that, in violation of the Constitution, inmates in Alabama prisons for men “are at serious risk of death, physical violence, sexual abuse and death at the hands of other prisoners.”
Despite “multiple rounds of negotiations” with the state beginning in the spring of 2019, the DOJ states in the complaint that “the state of Alabama has failed or refused to correct the unconstitutional conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men.”
The Department of Justice in July released a report that details why the federal government believes systemic use of excessive force within Alabama’s prisons for men violates the Eighth Amendment.