Tutwiler violating Constitution?

Published 1:25pm Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Following an investigation, interviews with more than a dozen prisoners and more than 230 letters from current prisoners of Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded the prison is operating in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In a 36-page letter to Gov. Robert Bentley, the Department of Justice concluded Tutwiler Prison has violated the inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights since there have been confirmed reports of rape of inmates by Alabama Department of Corrections officers, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

“These problems have been festering for years, and are well known to Alabama prison officials,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Remedying these deficiencies is critical to ensuring constitutionally protected treatment of women prisoners at Tutwiler and will promote public safety.”

In the letter to Bentley, it laid out specific instances in which officers required inmates at the prison to engage in sexual acts in exchange for basic sanitary supplies.

It also referenced inmate complaints in which male corrections officers would watch the inmates shower or use the toilet.

The report also indicated that the corrections staff facilitated a “strip show” which was performed by the inmates.

The report also referenced an instance where a corrections officer was charged with sexual misconduct after impregnating an inmate.

That officer was sentenced to 180 days in the Elmore County Jail.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas responded to the letter Saturday afternoon saying he disagrees with the DOJ’s assertion.

“We have never downplayed the significant and serious nature of these allegations. I do not, however, agree that Tutwiler is operating in a deliberately indifferent or unconstitutional manner,” Thomas said. “We will cooperate with the Department of Justice and continue our efforts to implement changes and recommendations with the goal of improving prison conditions and avoiding potential contested litigation.”

Tutwiler Prison opened in 1942 and is designed to house 417 prisoners. At present the prison houses 928 and 288 more in the prison annex.

The DOJ’s letter said “Tutwiler has had a sordid history of sexual abuse and harassment of prisoners” for nearly two decades.

“Although officials have known since at least 1995 of the risks of sexual abuse and harassment that prisoners at Tutwiler face, ADOC and Tutwiler officials have failed to take reasonable steps to protect the women in their custody from these abuses,” the letter stated.

In January 2013 Thomas outlined a former Action Plan to improve conditions at Tutwiler Prison.

The action plan was based on a report from the National Institute of Corrections in which it outlined 58 items to be addressed.

Thomas said 57 of the 58 items have been completed.

“We consider allegations of custodial sexual misconduct to be an unacceptable abuse of power,” Thomas added. “During the last year we have worked tirelessly to implement recommendations of the DOJ’s National Institute of Corrections, a review that I requested.  Positive reforms have been put in place and those reforms will continue.”

Editor's Picks