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Incarcerated deaths, despair and a billion dollar prison price tag

Last week, more individuals in ADOC prisons continued to leave in body bags than parole.

Dramatic clouds behind barbed wire fence on a prison wall STOCK

As parole is repeatedly denied and incarcerated people are subjected to deaths, alleged beatings and medical neglect, the Alabama Department of Corrections is intent on spending over a billion in taxpayer dollars on one prison. 

On Wednesday, the Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee was given updates on the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) during their latest meeting.

ADOC Commissioner John Hamm relayed to the committee members the ongoing construction efforts of new prisons, issues hiring correctional officers and a bloated prison population during the meeting.  

One billion-dollar prison (more than likely)

Hamm initially discussed the construction of the new Elmore correctional facility and the rising price tag associated. Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, asked Hamm what the current price estimate was for the prison now and if it would be higher than the previous cost estimate. 

The last estimate for the facility was $973 million. Hamm stated that the cost would likely be over $1 billion given the associated costs. The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority meets Tuesday, Sept. 26 and Hamm said he would know the exact price following that meeting. 

The site according to Hamm is 300-plus acres and will have 50 buildings inside which will include education space and vocational space such as welding, engineering and other trades. Also, when asked by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, Hamm re-affirmed that the facility would hold 4,000 beds.

Simpson also asked Hamm about the “hostage situation” that occurred in August that was reported in the news. Hamm responded saying the department was still investigating the incident but did not want to go into too much detail.

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None of the members asked Hamm nor did he comment on how an incarcerated person got a gun into the the highest security facility in the state.

Violence of correctional officers not addressed

“Our recruiting, hiring and retention is the number one issue facing the department,” Hamm said. 

Some 727 correctional officer positions were vacant, according to Hamm’s presentation. While Hamm lamented the issue of retaining correctional officers, his office has not been responsive to requests regarding an officer who has been continuously accused of beating incarcerated people. 

One individual named Akeem Edmonds whom APR has reported on previously is routinely involved in accusations of beating incarcerated people and even had several lawsuits filed against him. Edmonds reached a settlement agreement with a plaintiff in 2020 for a 2016 incident that Edmonds is said to have beaten the victim while they were handcuffed to a bench. Sources have also told APR about Edmonds being involved in beatings of incarcerated people as recently as two weeks ago. 

APR emailed Hamm inquiring as to whether he thought Edmonds was a good reflection of the department and asked why he was still employed there. That was nearly three weeks ago and APR is still awaiting a response. While Hamm did mention the arrests of staff and officers that have been found in possession of contraband the commissioner did not mention how the department will handle those accused of routinely beating the incarcerated.

Lack of parole creates overcrowding and despair

England stressed how the parole board not granting parole is adding to the overflowing prison population.

“It appears to me that whoever is operating the paroles and making the decisions thinks that you’re absolutely horrible at classifying people and rehabilitating people,” England told Hamm.

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While ADOC and the Board of Pardons and Paroles are separate entities, the outcomes and actions of both overlap and affect each other. So, with the parole board constantly denying incarcerated people, some of which are recommended by ADOC as rehabilitated, less people are getting out of prison. This means that there is less room inside those facilities because the amount of people being sentenced and incarcerated does not stop.

This situation has only made it worse for the correctional officers and incarcerated people left to deal with a population of individuals left with no hope. Many incarcerated individuals, that APR has spoken with as well, have stated to similar effect that the denial of parole only makes the prisons more unsafe for officers and the incarcerated alike.

Last Thursday, the ACLU of Alabama released a report on the current state of parole in the state. In that report, the organization found that over 86 percent of individuals on work release were denied parole and found that White applicants were more likely to be granted parole than Black applicants. 

The next committee meeting is on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. There will be public comment during that meeting and anyone interested in speaking has until December 7 at 4:30 to sign up.

Continued deaths in ADOC facilities

Last week, more individuals in ADOC prisons continued to leave in body bags than parole. According to sources, over three individuals died at Easterling Correctional Facility alone. The identities of the individuals are currently unknown at this time, however. 

But last night APR was informed by a source that an individual named Sabastain Buckner died from a potential overdose of Fentanyl at St. Clair Correctional Facility.

According to ADOC’s latest quarterly report combined with individual tracking of deaths by sources and APR the estimated death toll at this time is around 180 deaths this year. However, that still does not encompass the entirety of August, July and now September.

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Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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