by Jo Ellen Nott
With 39 prisoners dead by September 1, 2022 — despite a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation ongoing since 2016 and two federal court orders — the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) remains unwilling or unable to address hellish conditions in its prisons.
One of those court orders came in a December 2020 suit filed by DOJ, alleging the state is “deliberately indifferent” to unconstitutional overcrowding in its prisons. [See: PLN, Apr. 2021, p.34.] The other came in a separate class-action filed earlier by mentally ill state prisoners, and in that order another federal judge told DOC to address chronic short-staffing that has led to at least 30 prisoner suicides over the last two years. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.38.]
Meanwhile DOC replaced healthcare contractor Wexford Health Sources in July 2022. Perhaps proving that nothing really changes in the Cotton State’s prisons, the new contractor is Wexford’s predecessor. Only the name has changed, from Corizon Health to YesCare.
The state is also moving forward with construction of two massive “mega-prisons,” despite a bond sale that came up $200 million short. [See: PLN, Aug. 5, 2022, online.] A $623 million contract to build one of the prisons was signed in April 2022 with Montgomery-based Caddell Construction. But two federal suits have since been filed on behalf of state prisoners objecting to the use of $400 million in pandemic relief funds for the projects. See: Bosarge v. U.S. Treas. Dep’t, USDC (M.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:2022-cv-00407; and Kincaid v. U.S. Treas. Dep’t, USDC (M.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:22-cv-00409.
So how bad are conditions in DOC’s 26 facilities? Grossly overcrowded. With a 144% occupancy rate in close-security prisons as of May 2022, things only get worse at lower security levels: Occupancy is 183% in medium-security prisons and an eye-popping 265% in minimum-security facilities, which is like having five men in every cell designed for two.
Compounding the problem is an ongoing shortage of guards. Despite a 2017 federal court order to hire 2,000 guards by a deadline since extended to 2025, the state Legislative Prison Oversight Committee reported on March 31, 2022, that just 35 new guards were onboarded in the preceding three months, while 170 other DOC staffers quit.
The result: nauseatingly high levels of violence.
On March 29, 2022, a prisoner at Limestone Correctional Facility (CF) stabbed a guard in the face during a routine prisoner count. An investigation by WAAY in Huntsville found that only 15 guards were on duty at the time in the entire prison to oversee more than 2,200 prisoners.
Guards get violent with prisoners, too. An Elmore CF guard, Ell White, was placed on leave after video surfaced on social media that apparently showed him beating a prisoner — on the roof of the prison chapel — on September 16, 2022. It was unclear why the prisoner, Jimmy Norman, 44, was on the roof, but a DOC statement said White was among a group of guards who went to escort him off the roof when the guard pulled Norman from the precipice and punched him five times. White was previously accused of lying to DOC investigators during questioning about the 2017 hogtying and death of prisoner Billy Smith. [See: PLN, Aug. 2020, p.36.] No charges were filed in that death, but a lawsuit filed for Smith’s family by Birmingham attorneys Greg Zarzaur and Anil Mujumdar is pending in federal court for the Middle District of Alabama. See: Parrish v. Dunn, USDC (M.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:19-cv-00878.
A Donaldson CF guard, Lt. Mohammad Jenkins, was arrested and charged with assault on March 9, 2022, after an investigation by DOC and the FBI into the death of prisoner Victor Russo. Jenkins allegedly beat the prisoner six days before his February 2022 death and sprayed a chemical agent down his throat after sticking the nozzle in Russo’s mouth and pulling the trigger. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.1.]
On April 25, 2022, a federal grand jury indicted a former Draper CF guard, Sgt. Lorenzo Mills, 55, on charges he assaulted three prisoners with a baton, though all three were compliant and not resisting at the time. Mills is also charged with falsifying his report about the incident. For that he faces a possible 20 years in prison on an obstruction-of-justice charge, plus ten years for each of the beating charges.
On May 10, 2022, Donaldson CF guards John Eddie Rogers, 35, and LaTasha Patrice Terrell, 37, were arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide in the July 2021 death of mentally ill prisoner Jason Kirkland, 27. The two guards allegedly failed to render aid after the prisoner wedged his head and arm in the food tray slot of his cell door, leaving him to suffocate there. [See: PLN, July 2022, p.63.]
More frequently, the violence erupts between prisoners. When prisoner Terry Jones, 46, was fatally stabbed in an open-bay dormitory at Easterling CF on March 1, 2022, no guards were present. In fact several hours passed before any arrived and he received medical attention. Though Jones had minimum-custody status, he was transferred to the medium-security prison. It is also severely overcrowded, with a 190% occupancy rate as of May 2022.
In 2019, DOJ warned DOC to address “deficient supervision” that led to “hundreds of grave injuries to prisoners that were inflicted out of sight” of DOC guards. Yet deaths continue to mount, with at least 39 prisoner deaths — only six attributed to natural causes — in just eight months. In addition to Russo and Jones, there were seven other prisoner deaths by March 1 that PLN has already reported. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.1.] By the beginning of September, there were 30 more:
Marcus Terrell Grubbs, 39, was killed with a homemade weapon by a fellow prisoner at Kilby CF on May 4, 2022; DOC has not announced any charges in his death.
Joseph Johnson, 33, committed suicide in a supposedly suicide-proof cell at Limestone CF on May 27, 2022; according to his brother, Brian Poole, the warden had said Johnson was “in the safest place in the prison system, and that’s protective custody.”
Justin Blaine Denson, 44, died on June 5, 2022, though he’d been brain-dead since an assault by a group of fellow prisoners at Ventress CF on May 16, 2022.
William Thierry, 46, was found dead in his cell at Easterling CF on June 9, 2022; no cause of death has been provided by DOC so far.
David Price, 58, was found dead in his cell at Bibb CF on June 14, 2022; again, DOC has not yet provided a cause of death.
Mitchell Cosby, 41, died on June 15, 2022, while being airlifted to a hospital from Donaldson CF, following a stabbing by a fellow prisoner.
Matthew Mork, 33, died of a heart attack at Donaldson CF on June 20, 2022; he had reportedly been physically and sexually assaulted by other prisoners for months.
Nyheim Toney, 29, died from multiple stab wounds inflicted by a fellow prisoner at Bibb CF on June 28, 2022; no charges have been announced in his killing.
Maxamillion Ward, 36, died on June 28, 2022, five days after he was transferred to a hospital from Donaldson CF for treatment of “complications due to a wound,” DOC said.
Jessie Lee Bennett, 44, died at Donaldson CF on July 1, 2022, from what was described as “significant natural disease.”
Kenneth Bernard James, Jr., 36, was found dead in his cell at Donaldson CF on July 2, 2022; though an autopsy reportedly found no evidence of “trauma or foul play,” his family said he’d endured recurring symptoms from a head trauma suffered at the prison the previous October.
Don Robert Barclay, 73, died at Donaldson CF on July 7, 2022; he was also being treated for “significant natural disease,” according to a coroner’s report.
Joe C. Davis, 75, died on July 8, 2022, after he was taken to a hospital from Donaldson CF, also suffering from what the coroner called “significant natural disease.”
Lionel Ferado O’Neal, 45, died at Donaldson CF on July 9, 2022; no cause of death has been provided by DOC so far.
Jakari Marquez Norris, 30, died at Donaldson CF on July 10, 2022; again, DOC has not yet provided a cause of death.
Calvin Darrell Turner, 57, died on July 11, 2022, from injuries sustained in an assault by a fellow prisoner at Donaldson CF.
Matthew Bright, 34, died on July 15, 2022, two days after he was found unresponsive in the dayroom at Fountain CF; DOC has not yet provided a cause of death.
David Daniel Sloan, 45, died on July 17, 2022, from injuries sustained in an assault by a fellow prisoner at Donaldson CF three weeks earlier.
Brian Stephen Pate, 48, died on the same day at St. Clair CF; no cause of death has been provided by DOC so far.
Charles Bradley Sullivan, 28, also died at St. Clair CF, also on July 17, 2022; no cause of death has so far been provided by DOC in his case, either.
Lawrence James Turner, 43, died on July 19, 2022, from injuries sustained in an assault by a fellow prisoner at Bullock CF.
Paul Stephen Smith, 65, died at Donaldson CF on July 29, 2022, another victim of “significant natural disease.”
Lee Clemon Hardy, 65, died at Donaldson CF the next day of similar causes.
Dakota Jamel Borden, 34, also died on July 30, 2022, at Elmore CF; no cause of death has been provided by DOC so far.
Antonio Lang, 23, died at St. Clair CF on July 31, 2022; again, DOC has not provided a cause of death.
Cory Luke White, 38, died at Bibb CF on August 9, 2022; no cause of death has been provided for him, either.
Jonathan Cossey, 42, reportedly committed suicide at Limestone CF on August 9, 2022.
Anthony Miguel Bishop, 57, was also found dead on August 9, 2022, in his wheelchair in the bathroom at Kilby CF; again, DOC has not yet provided a cause of death.
Anthony Gay, 42, died at Donaldson CF on August 18, 2022; once more, no cause of death has been provided by DOC.
Clarence Coefield, 72, was found dead at Donaldson CF on September 1, 2022; he was another prisoner being treated for “significant natural disease.”
Additional sources: Ala. Political Reporter, Birmingham News, Business Wire, Corrections One, Equal Justice Initiative, The Marshall Project, Montgomery Advertiser, WAAY, WHNT, WSAF
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