by Free Alabama Movement
Oct. 8, 2016 – At Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama, only two officers reported for work for the second shift Saturday, Oct. 8. Officers confess being fed up with Gov. Robert Bentley’s putting their very lives in jeopardy simply to further his political agenda of institutionalizing Alabama with plans for new state-of-the-art prisons.
The officers at Holman are walking off the job and refusing to come back to work after filing grievance after grievance concerning the ill treatment of prisoners, overcrowding and forced slave labor. These conditions have become outrageously dangerous for prisoners and officers alike.
Officers see the political maneuvers of Gov. Bentley as an abject disregard for the safety of all within the gates and walls of America’s System of Slavery. The Free Alabama Movement has shed light on the human rights atrocities being perpetuated in prisons all across the nation.
This is not about crime and criminals. It’s about the System of Slavery and its legal baton of authority: the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Free Alabama Movement responds to new DOJ investigation, calls for transparency and accountability
by Mothers and FAMilies
Oct. 7, 2016 – Free Alabama Movement (FAM) is pleased with the news that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will be conducting a statewide investigation into the issues of abuse, violence and safe, secure and sanitary conditions in Alabama’s men’s prisons, even though we believe that the women’s prison should also be revisited. We would like to emphasize that we are looking for an open, transparent and inclusive investigation that will keep the public updated, informed and INVOLVED throughout this process.
Alabama prisons are unique in that they are the most overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed prisons in America. Therefore, any solutions to the existing problems will need to be unique and require “outside-the-box” thinking as well.
We would also like to see accountability result from this investigation. In 2014, the U.S. DOJ released a report on its year-long investigation at Tutwiler Women’s Prison. In this report, DOJ investigators found that the civil rights of these women had been violated over a 20-year period and that at least one third of all of the correctional staff at Tutwiler had engaged in some form of sexual misconduct with the women incarcerated there.
Yet, despite these conclusive findings, which included child births and unauthorized abortions by complicit medical staff, not a single person was prosecuted for the violation of a single federal crime.
Some of the questions we have to ask are, what is the purpose of this investigation? Are there federal criminal or civil statutes available where ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) officials can be prosecuted and required to pay damages as a result of this investigation if they are found guilty of wrongdoing?
Will the DOJ prosecute any findings of corruption? Will federal charges be brought against officers who are found to be using excessive force? In instances of death, will negligent DOC officials be prosecuted?
Other questions that have to be asked are, in the ultimate finding of unsanitary and unsafe conditions, what are the proposed solutions? Will the DOJ seek to alleviate overcrowding through release programs or more prisons? Will the people incarcerated have a voice and seat at the table towards fashioning solutions – as is being done in California since the Askher settlement? Will family members be allowed to be part of the investigation? Will there be briefing sessions for the public?
Will there be on-site inspections where family members, interested organizations and the media will be allowed to attend? Will the investigation into sanitation include water testing, since officers at most prisons are warned not to drink it under any circumstances?
When speaking of transparency, will the DOJ move for policy changes that will afford the media open access to Alabama prisons? Finally, will public organizations be factored into the role of oversight and implementation of solutions, such as educational and rehab programs?
We cannot just go into an investigation without some clear understanding of what a solution will look like. We have learned from Tutwiler and all of the frivolous lawsuits filed by Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Center for Human Rights that oversight is just as important as the settlement itself, and oversight cannot be left to the ADOC under any circumstances.
Gov. Bentley has stated that he welcomes the investigation and looks forward to working with the DOJ. Well, why should the federal government have to come in and investigate matters that fall within his responsibility? If Gov. Bentley does not have a Commissioner’s Office that is capable of assessing the rising violence, murders, drug overdoses etc. and understands that those issues need investigating and solving, then what is the purpose of having investigators on taxpayer payrolls?
Gov. Bentley is looking for a political bailout; he ignored dead bodies and waited for federal intervention so that he can maintain his “tough on crime” stance, while “blaming” the federal government for the needed and costly changes to Alabama’s prison system. But now that the “feds” are here, FAM and the family members of those incarcerated have an opportunity to seek real changes if, indeed, that is what the DOJ is here for.
Contact Mothers and FAMilies at P.O. Box 186, New Market, Al 35761 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prisoner rights advocates and correctional officers praise DOJ investigation of Alabama prisons, warn it must not lead to proliferation of new prisons
by Pastor Kenneth Glasgow
Oct. 7, 2016 – The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS) applauds the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate alleged civil rights violations of prisoners by the Alabama Department of Corrections.
TOPS founder Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is a leader in The Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement. The group has met with DOJ and White House officials over the past three years to push for reforms and interventions, such as this investigation.
“I am very glad and very hopeful that the Department of Justice has launched this investigation,” Glasgow said. “The Alabama Department of Corrections is not going to be able to hide the deplorable conditions, lack of medical treatment and the brutality that has happened in those prisons.”
Alabama’s prisons hold nearly twice as many prisoners as they have capacity for, and they are consistently understaffed. Last month, a corrections officer at Holman Correctional Facility was fatally stabbed while overseeing a cafeteria full of prisoners without sufficient staff support. Officers at Holman have begun quitting and speaking out against these conditions.
“It’s a ticking time bomb. Things have been swept under the rug for too long,” said Curt Stidham, a former corrections officer who worked at Holman and several other Alabama prisons.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed to solve the crisis by seeking $800 million in infrastructure bonds to build four new supermax prisons.
“He is using this hostile environment that the Department of Corrections created to promote his political agenda,” Glasgow said. “Alabama sends more people per capita to prison than any other state. That’s because we are incarcerating people for low level crimes. You can get a life sentence for a simple marijuana possession in Alabama.”
Glasgow is the “outside” spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a network of incarcerated people who put forth a slate of prison reforms to solve overcrowding by repealing the state’s three strikes law and other harsh sentencing policies.
“You have inmates giving them solutions and being ignored,” Glasgow said.
FAM also initiated a nationwide prison strike last month, calling for a re-write of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery but made an exception for convicted people. On the heels of the strike, acclaimed director Ava Duvernay released “The 13th,” a film that explores this topic.
Officer Stidham does not side with FAM, but does agree that pushing the prison spending bill is not the solution.
“The officers have rights too, and they have been trampled. We need to start with fixing the leadership in the prisons we already have,” Stidham said.
Pastor Glasgow is currently traveling throughout the South to register voters in jails. He hopes the DOJ investigation will compel the Alabama Department of Corrections to comply with his public records requests, which have thus far been denied. He is also seeking for DOJ to investigate several police shootings in Alabama and wrongful convictions by Alabama judges.
Free Alabama Movement: Summary of Demands and Reforms
- End prison slavery. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) compels prisoners to work without pay or for rates as low as 17 cents per hour. Prisoners have to pay fees in order to work. Their labor can be for the state or for private companies.
Repeal the Habitual Offender Statute. More than 8,000 people in Alabama are serving “enhanced mandatory sentences” under this law, which adds decades – and sometimes life without parole – to sentences for people with prior convictions, even if their current offense is relatively minor.
- Expand the scope of the Alabama Innocence Inquiry Commission. This commission was originally proposed to investigate innocence claims by all felons, but was changed to apply only to death row claims.
- Abolish mandatory Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences for first-time offenders. This would give first time offenders a chance at rehabilitation and alleviate inhumane conditions caused by overcrowding.
- Reform the Alabama Parole Board. There are no clear criteria for parole eligibility. The parole board is arbitrary and biased.
- Amend Alabama’s “drive-by-shooting law” to apply only to gang-related activity. This law has resulted in judicial overreach by enabling murder charges to be elevated to a capital offense based solely on the shooter’s location in a car, with or without proof of gang activity.
- Implement the Education, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Preparedness Bill. This legislation, put forth by The Free Alabama Movement, would provide educational opportunities to all incarcerated people in Alabama, reduce the prison population to meet the actual capacity of ADOC and other reforms.