Officer Describes Corruption, Violence in Alabama Prisons

Alabama’s prisons are plagued by abuse, violence, and corruption at the hands of prison guards, according to a correctional officer. Conditions in the central Alabama men’s prison where he works are so filthy and dangerous, he told 1819 News, “I wouldn’t wish prison on my worst enemy.”

In an interview with 1819 News, the officer described rampant corruption among officers and supervisors, unchecked abuse and neglect of the people in their care, and dangerous, disgusting conditions that fuel high turnover among prison staff.

“Ninety percent of officers and supervisors are dirty,” the officer, whose name was withheld for his protection, told 1819 News. Most contraband—including drugs, weapons, and cell phones—comes in with prison staff, who are not consistently screened when they enter the prison.

“It’s coming in by officers on a regular basis,” he said. “Because, normally, when they come in, they don’t get shook down properly. They bring it in in bags of food, stuff it in like a bag of watermelon, wrapped up. Stuff like that.”

Corruption extends to supervisors, who fail to enforce proper procedures and allow contraband to circulate, according to the officer. “I’ve seen inmates walk up to supervisors and say, ‘Hey, let me get my phone back,’ and I’ve seen the supervisor give it right back to them,” the guard told 1819. “So what you’re saying to me is, I have to bust my ass to get it, and you’re just going just to turn it around and give it back to them.”

Overdoses are rampant in Alabama’s prisons, and the guard reports they’re often fatal. “That’s 16 hours a day, that’s every day,” the officer said. “If you’re lucky, they’ll survive. But in the last two months, we’ve probably had around 30 people die from overdosing.”

But supervisors still refuse to intervene, the officer said, even though understaffing means incarcerated people rarely try to hide drug use. “I’ve caught them shooting up several times,” the guard told 1819. “I’ll take it to the supervisor, and they don’t want to reprimand them for it. So, I go about my way and do it the old-fashioned way: I slap the shit out of them, take their stuff and throw it out.”

The officer was blunt, even casual, about using violence against incarcerated people. “On a regular daily basis, the inmates go about their normal day, they check out for trade school, and then we open it up, they go walk around, play basketball, catch the snack line, store, whatever. We stay in the dorms,” he said. “Every now and again, we smack one or two around if we have to. Normally, that’s what we do on a daily basis.”

Violence, including rape, goes unchecked by correctional officers charged with protecting the people in their care. On an average day, the guard said, “we have to take one to the hospital because they got stabbed or beat up real bad or got their head swelled up.” That, he said, counts as “a good day.”

“Sometimes, we have to take one to the center that has to do with PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) if an inmate gets raped,” the guard said. Rape has been happening a lot lately, he said. “It’s like every two to three days. Every third day or once a week, you’ll get one saying, ‘I’ve been raped,’ or you get one that says, ‘I’ve been raped, but I’m not going to say nothing,’ because they don’t want to go to the PREA officer” for fear of retaliation.

The violence experienced by incarcerated people—as well as the nasty, roach-infested, living conditions they’re forced to endure—fuels understaffing in the state’s prisons, the guard explained. Many new officers leave after witnessing prison conditions for themselves.

“This is the real deal,” the guard said. “I’ve seen people getting stabbed, beat up, busted in the head with broomsticks, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen people cut ear-to-ear, I’ve seen wrists getting slit. I’ve had inmates die in my arms. That’ll mess somebody up.”

And because incarcerated people are not given proper cleaning supplies, the guard said the dorms where they sleep are so unsanitary that they are literally sickening. “A lot of us officers get sick. Some of us get sick quicker than others,” he told 1819. “The inmates are getting sick all the time. I’m sure there’s mold in there somewhere. The showers are nasty. You’ve got roaches everywhere. It’s bad.”

The guard’s graphic description of conditions in Alabama’s prisons today mirrors the unconstitutional conditions federal investigators found throughout the state’s prisons for men four years ago.

Federal prosecutors identified corruption, understaffing, and inadequate supervision as factors contributing to guards’ frequent use of excessive force against people in Alabama’s prisons. “[W]ithout correctional supervisors who demand adherence to use of force policy, training and law,” federal prosecutors reported, “correctional officers are far more likely to act with impunity.”

While the Justice Department has called out underreporting and misrepresentations in data from the Alabama Department of Corrections, ADOC’s own reports reveal that its failure to protect incarcerated people from rampant violence and sexual abuse continues unabated—with devastating consequences for Alabamians.

Last year, ADOC’s reports recorded 274 deaths—the most ever recorded in a single calendar year.

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