At least 325 individuals died while incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2023, marking the highest number of deaths recorded, according to data obtained by Alabama Appleseed.
“In the weeks after we started tracking prison deaths starting January 1 of last year, we quickly realized we’d very likely see another record year of deaths, and we were correct,” Eddie Burkhalter, a researcher with Alabama Appleseed, said.
According to a report by Burkhalter, since 2019, there have now been over 1,000 deaths in Alabama prisons following an investigation by the Department of Justice that found Alabama’s prisons unconstitutional. The DOJ also filed a lawsuit against Alabama in 2020 because of the alleged unconstitutionality of its prisons, and that case is set to begin in November 2024.
The deaths of hundreds of individuals in ADOC facilities underscore a multitude of issues ranging from unchecked violence to the proliferation of drugs, both often a result of the correctional officers supposedly tasked with maintaining the peace.
Multiple times, APR has reported instances of correctional officers being involved in assaults, getting caught possessing drugs, or former officers being sentenced for assaults.
Another issue is the problem of overcrowding and lack of parole for older individuals or those who are in minimum custody, meaning they pose little threat to the public and work in communities in the free world.
ADOC’s statistics often indicate that many individuals die from “natural” causes, which may be true for older individuals. This then raises the question of why many of them are not released.
However, these statistics should also be viewed skeptically because ADOC has a history of misclassifying deaths to mask how many individuals died from violence, as Burkhalter also indicates.
APR has heard from sources that both overcrowding and lack of parole increase the violence within the prisons. The lack of parole, in particular, enables individuals to adopt an attitude of believing they have nothing to lose, resulting in acts of violence because there is no longer a fear of consequence.
“Until the Alabama Department of Corrections takes the steps necessary to rid our prisons of the drugs that drive the violence and death, and hold those who prey on the weaker inside our prisons accountable, we’ll continue to see records like this broken every year. State lawmakers and the public need to press ADOC to act so that we don’t continue to see more MaKayla Mounts, who at the age of 17 feel they must stand in front of a room full of strangers and speak about losing their father at such a young age.”
In December, Mount was one of over a dozen individuals who spoke during a public hearing at a Joint Prison Oversight Committee Meeting. Mount detailed how her father, Christopher Mount, was strangled in prison and expressed what it was like to have to wait 10 years to see her dad.
“You know, when you see your dad for the first time in 10 years and half of his face is gone because he was beaten, it does something to you,” Mount said. “… The [correctional officers] are corrupt, the prisons are corrupt. It’s in the name; it’s a correctional facility. It’s meant for correction. It’s not a death sentence; it’s not supposed to be a death sentence, and yet, it is. So many people are dying for no reason.”
Despite Mount and other families begging for change, the violence has only escalated according to the final death total.