Gov. Robert Bentley tests a telephone at Julia Tutwiler Prison Thursday. Inmates can use the phones to report sexual abuse. Photo by Governor’s Press Office
Gov. Robert Bentley tests a telephone at Julia Tutwiler Prison Thursday. Inmates can use the phones to report sexual abuse. Photo by Governor’s Press Office

State seeks assistance to improve Tutwiler conditions

Published 9:09am Monday, March 10, 2014

Almost two months after the U.S. Department of Justice said the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka is operating in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking outside input.

Gov. Robert Bentley announced Friday morning that ADOC has sought assistance from Andie Moss, a Washington D.C.-based national expert in criminal justice management.

The Moss Group is expected to help ADOC comply with federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requirements and build on the current reforms put in action by ADOC Commissioner Kim Thomas.

“The Department of Corrections has made significant improvements at Tutwiler to create a safer environment,” Bentley said. “… The issues at Tutwiler cannot be changed overnight, but with the reform efforts already under way combined with the technical assistance provided by The Moss Group, Tutwiler will be a better facility for the staff who work there and the inmates who are incarcerated there.”

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

Tutwiler fell under the microscope in mid-2012 when the Montgomery nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative noted there had been more than 20 Tutwiler corrections employees who had been transferred or terminated in the past five years for having sexual contact with inmates.

In January 2013 Thomas announced a 58-point action plan had been put in place to improve operations at the women’s prison.

Some of the areas covered in Thomas’ plan include enhancing inmate privacy by adding new panel doors in the bathroom areas, modifying policies to take into account gender differences and specific requirements of the women inmates.

To date, all of the recommendations have been initiated, according to release from Bentley’s press office.

“Nothing will be able to change the past culture at Tutwiler,” Thomas said. “However, we are moving in a new direction with Tutwiler, and I am committed to our reform efforts to address the concerns there and in the entire Alabama prison system.”

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