Alabama lawmakers to hold meeting on sexual abuse at Tutwiler Prison @ 1p.m. in Montgomery
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Alabama’s Joint Legislative Prison Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss a report released last week about sexual misconduct against female inmates by staff at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, the vice chairman of the committee who spent 37 years in law enforcement, called the report, written by a team of consultants from the National Institute of Corrections after a three-day visit to the prison in September, “scathing.”
“I want to know what the administrators of the prison facility have been doing if we have to bring in somebody from the federal level to talk to our people to tell us about our problems,” Farley said. “Commissioner (Kim) Thomas and his associate commissioners have got to roll up their sleeves.”
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of the Prison Committee, called the report a “black eye” for the state. Ward said Thomas would be at Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions.
Thomas released a plan to address problems found in the NIC report, which said that women and staff described Tutwiler as “a repressive and intimidating environment,” and that inmates reported fear of retaliation if they resisted sexual advances by the prison’s staff.
“Let me be blunt, to the extent that that exists in reality, that is not acceptable, and we’re going to do everything in our power to eliminate those from occurring,” Thomas said.
In June 2012, Thomas asked the NIC to visit Tutwiler and make recommendations on improving the supervision of female inmates by male prison employees. Thomas made that request after a May 2012 report by the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents inmates, that found inmates were being raped, assaulted and harassed by male prison employees.
The NIC report appeared to confirm some of the EJI’s findings, including that male guards watched female inmates shower and go to the bathroom. Thomas said he knew of one pregnancy of a female inmate that was a result of “custodial rape.”
Thomas said the department has already changed some policies. For example, inmates who complain about sexual misconduct by staff are no longer placed in segregation, one of the findings listed in the EJI report.
“Although the initial purpose of that policy was to protect the offender from harm, it was producing an undesirable effect, discouraging offenders from coming forward with complaints,” Thomas said.
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the EJI, said the action plan released by Thomas was a start, but that it would take time to address all the problems at Tutwiler and throughout the prison system.
“You can’t excuse or ignore violence, by staff, directed at prisoners,” Stevenson said. “You can’t justify it. You can’t excuse it. You have to address it.”
The beating death of an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility in 2010 has resulted in criminal charges and firings or resignations of six officers.
State officials say Tutwiler and other state prisons are filled beyond their designed capacity and there are not enough officers.
Farley said that does not excuse sexual misconduct by employees.
“There’s nothing that you could convince me is an excuse for employees being involved with sexual activity with those that are incarcerated that we are given the duty to protect,” Farley said. “Whether we agree with what they were convicted of or not, that’s not up to us. That’s up to the judges and the court system. It’s our job in the prison system to protect these people.”
Ward said he had sent the NIC report to other members of the Legislature. He said he was glad to see Thomas is taking steps to address problems.
“I’m glad to see he’s being proactive,” Ward said. “But let’s face it, he’s being proactive in what was a very, very bad situation.”
Tuesday’s meeting, which is open to the public, is at 1 p.m. at the Alabama State House, 11 South Union Street.