What reforms do prisoners want? More guards, among other things

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ATMORE, Ala. (WHNT) – Unrest and stabbings at Holman Correctional facilities have drawn the state’s attention. Prisoners, a guard, and even the warden were hurt in the incidents.

Reform Plans

Governor Robert Bentley wants to shut most of the state prisons down and build four new, much larger prisons. Wednesday, a senate committee passed the Prison Transformation Initiative Act to the full Alabama Senate.

Governor Bentley praised the committee and also said, “For decades, Alabama`s prisons have become increasingly overcrowded, dangerous to both inmates and our corrections officers and incredibly costly to taxpayers.”

Inmate Concerns

Inmates in Holman have expressed their own concerns and grievances to us. In large part, they agree with the governor.  They say overcrowding has created a dangerous environment for them.

They say Friday’s events weren’t a riot. They say it’s what happens in abysmal conditions.

An inmate, his face covered to protect himself from retribution, says in a video message, “There’s a lot of problems that are going on in prison, even with the overcrowding.”

Another inmate agreed the prison doesn’t have enough guards, saying “The prisons are understaffed. Which leads the safety of inmates and staff at risk.”

Another says, “Overcrowding must be addressed, “adding later, “In every stage of these inhumane conditions, we have petitioned the courts for redress, in the most humble method – filing lawsuit after lawsuit.”

While images of unrest may have frightened the state, inmates say it’s often their safety at risk.

The person in the video message says, “A lot of people are speaking bad of what we doing in Holman prison, but there ain’t nobody who speaking up about the injustice that are being served by the whole state of Alabama prison system.”

Common grievances from Holman inmates:

  • Overcrowding with insufficient staffing
  • Use of free labor from inmates
  • Unreliable parole system
  • Abusive corrections officer with no accountability
  • No functional grievance process
  • Racially discriminatory laws
  • Unsanitary conditions (kitchens not properly inspected, contaminated plumbing, etc)
  • Inadequate medical care

They say without a functioning grievance system, they have little voice themselves.

Medical Care Issues

Another concern we hear raised over and over again is lack of proper medical care.

“People here are old people,” explains the person in the video, “We have sickly people here. We’re not getting proper medical attention.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) just announced Wednesday morning they had settled the half of their lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADoC) concerning the ADoC treatment of disabled inmates. The other half of their lawsuit continues in court.

Parole Problems

Many complaints we received from inmates also included people getting essentially stuck, taking up beds and resources for minor offenses or being ruled out from parole because of minor infractions.

“We don’t have no system in this prison in Alabama that will allow us say, ‘OK this person is deemed to return back to society,'” says the anonymous video inmate.

While the governor’s current piece of legislation focuses on building new prisons to deal with overcrowding, he did address these concerns during his Holman visit on Tuesday:

“We need to try to keep minor offenses out of prison, and that’s one of the things we’re working on. And also, if we have some new modern prisons, we can help these people be trained. We can help with our two-year college systems being nearby to help train prisoners. It ought to be a department of corrections. And when they get out, we hope they become productive citizens.”

“The question is this”

So while the governor’s plans to replace overcrowded prisons with new ones should alleviate many inmate concerns if carried out, all sides seem to recognize more needs.

The person in the video says, “We just need someone to step up and allow themselves to frontline for us to give us the proper help that we’re trying to reach out to.”

Another inmate here summarizes it this way, “At the end of the day the question is this: is life so worthless that it should be thrown away in mass left to die, or should it be taken and given the opportunity to become transformed.”

His message ends, “Good day and God bless.”