The family of a man who the Alabama Department of Corrections says may have killed himself in prison wants to know how he was able to do that while in a cell designed to prevent that.
Joseph Johnson, 33, was found unresponsive in his cell at Limestone Correctional Facility on May 27, and was pronounced dead that day, according to a message from a department spokeswoman confirming the death.
While APR was able to get an indication of how Johnson may have died, the family was unable to get any details on his death, Johnson’s brother, Brian Poole, told APR last week. Poole said he and his mother both tried to learn more about the earth but prison staff told them nothing.
“Just know that he passed away. That’s it,” Poole said prison staff told the family.
The family was also having trouble locating his brother’s body, Poole said. The Alabama Department of Corrections told APR the exact cause of death awaits a full autopsy. Poole said attempts to reach Limestone Coroner Mike West haven’t been successful. APR also tried to contact West and was unable to.
Poole said his brother had transferred to Limestone prison from Holman Correctional Facility about a year ago after his life was threatened by other incarcerated men. He was being held in a protective cell at Limestone, Poole said, questioning how his brother was able to kill himself in such a cell.
“I talked to the warden and she said ‘You don’t have to worry about him. He’s in the safest place in the prison system, and that’s protective custody,” Pool said.
Guards at Limestone are corrupt, Poole said his brother told him, and would smuggle in drugs, cell phones and other contraband. One correctional officer gave his brother cigarettes to sell, only to turn around and bust him for having those cigarettes, Poole said.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s ongoing lawsuit against the state alleges Alabama fails to protect prisoners from violence, death, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and if the state fails to respond to the federal government’s concerns adequately, the suit could result in court-ordered federal oversight of Alabama’s prison system.
Alabama’s prisons are overpopulated and understaffed, which is resulting in growing amounts of contraband and drugs, excessive violence and death, the federal government notes in the suit.