Alabama prisons in need of reform

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Pratibha Gautam

Staff Writer

Steven Mullins, an inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, was found unresponsive as a result of multiple stab wounds on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Mullins, who was incarcerated for the kidnapping and murder of a gay man in 1999, passed away two days later.

According to Equal Justice Initiative, in the days and weeks before Mullins’s death, the Alabama Department of Corrections received multiple reports that his life was at risk. However, he was still placed in a dorm known for violence and serious assaults, commonly referred to as the “hot bay.”

Mullins death is not the only example of the dangerous conditions within Alabama’s prisons. On February 9, 2018, 25-year-old Travis Wilson was stabbed to death in his dorm at St. Clair Correctional Facility by an inmate who was not assigned to that dorm.

St. Clair Correctional Facility has had three escapes since December 2017, two of which escaped using firearms. In the past year, five men were stabbed to death and dozens of other inmates have been seriously assaulted, raped or beaten. 

St. Clair is not the only correctional facility with such violent records. Mullins is the 24th homicide victim in an Alabama prison in the last two years. On Nov. 26, 2018, Vaquerro Kinjuan Armstrong was murdered at Holman Correctional Facility. On Nov. 18, 2018, James Lewis Kennedy was stabbed to death at Elmore Correctional Facility.

It is no new information that prisons in the United States have always contradicted the country’s “developed” status, with inhumane practices such as trying minors as adults still in practice. However, the fact that Alabama’s prison homicide rate is more than six times the national average shows the sheer negligence that is going on in the state’s prison system. Alabama’s prisons are becoming the most lethal in the nation. 

It is easy to dismiss some of these incidents as a consequence of having “violent prisoners” in one facility. However, the frequency of homicides and other assaults in Alabama’s prisons points toward more systematic issues. Serious understaffing, systemic classification failures, and official misconduct are only some of the problems Alabama’s prisons are facing. This has left thousands of prisoners vulnerable to abuse, assaults and other forms of violence, but the Alabama Department of Corrections has continually ignored these problems.

Prison inmates are already facing the consequences of their crimes. However, their crimes do not exempt them from their basic human rights.

Alabama Department of Corrections should start taking concrete steps toward improving the condition of its prisons, training and making guards more accountable and acknowledging that even prisoners are humans.

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