Editorial: The troubles at Tutwiler — Lawmakers must make swift decisions about Alabama’s prisons
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 21, 2014 | 2375 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Inmates sit in their bunks in Dorm B at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. A hearing was held Tuesday at the prison before U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson about life under the Alabama prison system's policy of keeping HIV-positive inmates segregated from other inmates. The purpose of the hearing was for Thompson to determine if a proposed settlement of a lawsuit challenging the policy was fair. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
Inmates sit in their bunks in Dorm B at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. A hearing was held Tuesday at the prison before U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson about life under the Alabama prison system's policy of keeping HIV-positive inmates segregated from other inmates. The purpose of the hearing was for Thompson to determine if a proposed settlement of a lawsuit challenging the policy was fair. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
slideshow
Gov. Robert Bentley and the Legislature’s Republican leadership didn’t create the mess in Alabama’s prisons. The state’s flawed and deplorable corrections system existed long before Bentley or Senate leader Del Marsh, R-Anniston, or House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, were born.

Alabama owns a sordid past when it comes to the care, feeding and attempted rehabilitation of inmates.

In the present, federal officials informed state leaders of something that’s been obvious for a very long time: Conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women are “dehumanizing.”

The list of staff abuses cited by federal investigators (based on a 2013 visit) include sexual misconduct, excessive force, overcrowding, lack of health care and discrimination.

“We conclude that the state of Alabama violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff,” federal officials wrote in the letter to Gov. Bentley.

It now falls to Bentley, Marsh and Hubbard to make fixes, to get actively involved in providing the resources the state Department of Corrections needs to repair and reform Tutwiler and the rest of its facilities.

Given an opportunity to assess Alabama’s condition last week in his State of the State speech, Bentley failed to mention the deplorable conditions and 2-to-1 overcrowding at state prisons. Shocking. He did find time to brag about cutting $1 billion from state spending. It’s not a stretch to connect the two — budget-cutting with a growing crisis in the state’s public-safety apparatus.

Saving money at the expense of overcrowded prisons, understaffed courts and overworked crime labs isn’t really saving. This unwise cutting comes with many potential costs — a federal takeover of state prisons, reduced criminal sentences because of overcrowding, a growing crime rate and the pursuit of justice slowed to a frustrating crawl.

The challenge before our leaders on Goat Hill is obvious. Step. 1: Be leaders. Accept that these problems are your responsibility to fix. Step 2: Forget there’s an election this November. Fixing state prisons may be expensive and remedies may displease powerful, monied interests in the state. Too bad, this problem won’t wait for an election cycle. Step 3: This is no time for fed-bashing. We heard enough of that last week from Bentley. Step 4: Get moving. This is a crisis. Our prisons are a ticking time-bomb. The pursuit of fixes should begin in weeks and months, not years.
Comments must be made through Facebook
No personal attacks
No name-calling
No offensive language
Comments must stay on topic
No infringement of copyrighted material


Friends to Follow



Today's Events

event calendar

post a new event

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Marketplace