A man serving time at Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore died on April 4 in what could have been an overdose death, the latest in a string of likely overdose deaths in Alabama prisons.
Maurice Powell, 47, was found unresponsive by prison staff and was pronounced dead, an Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman confirmed for APR.
Powell’s exact cause of death is pending a full autopsy, but foul play is not suspected, the spokeswoman wrote to APR.
There have been a few arrests of correctional officers, charged with bringing in drugs and other contraband, but the overdoses have continued regardless.
There have been at least nine suspected drug overdose deaths in Alabama prisons this year, according to a running tally kept by investigative reporter Beth Shelburne, and APR‘s own tally, although its difficult to know for certain how many incarcerated people die in overdoses, homicides and by suicide. The Alabama Department of Corrections doesn’t regularly release information on deaths inside state prisons unless a reporter learns of the death through other means and asks for confirmation.
The U.S. Department of Justice in May 2021 filed an amended complaint in a December 2020 lawsuit against the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections, which alleged violations of inmates’ constitutional rights to protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force by prison guards.
The department hasn’t been able to control contraband, which is resulting in mounting overdose deaths, according to the complaint. ADOC also fails to accurately report overdose deaths as such, sometimes referring to them as “natural causes” in reports. The drugs continue to enter prisons despite no visits amid COVID-19 precautions.
“Although ADOC has not allowed visitors into Alabama’s Prisons for Men since March 2020 pursuant to COVID-19 restrictions, prisoners continue to have easy access to drugs and other illegal contraband,” the complaint reads.