Opinion: Alabama's Prison System Takes "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" To Another Level

Ashleigh Nicole

prison hallPhoto byEmiliano BaronUnsplash

In the heart of the Deep South, where the echoes of history still reverberate, Alabama finds itself at the crossroads of a deeply entrenched issue – its prison system. The Yellowhammer State, known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant communities, also harbors a 'monster in the closet': a correctional system that is not only ineffective but, more disturbingly, perpetuates a cycle of crime and suffering.

The Corruption

The recent revelations from an anonymous correctional officer in a central Alabama men's prison are nothing short of shocking. In an interview with 1819 News, this officer painted a grim picture of rampant corruption among fellow officers and supervisors, unchecked abuse of inmates, and deplorable conditions that would make anyone shudder. It's a situation so dire that this officer admitted:

I wouldn't wish prison on my worst enemy."

The officer's account reveals a troubling reality: contraband, including drugs, weapons, and cell phones, frequently enters prisons with the complicity of staff. Corruption extends its sinister grip to supervisors who, instead of upholding proper procedures, enable the circulation of contraband. It's a damning indictment of a system that's supposed to maintain order and safety.

The Problems

Overdoses run rampant within Alabama's prisons, often resulting in fatalities. The officer chillingly recounted, "If you're lucky, they'll survive. But in the last two months, we've probably had around 30 people die from overdosing." Shockingly, supervisors often turn a blind eye to drug use among inmates, even when it occurs in plain sight.

Violence, including rape, is tragically commonplace within these walls. Correctional officers, tasked with protecting inmates, often witness brutal assaults and injuries. "Sometimes, we have to take one to the center that has to do with PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) if an inmate gets raped," the officer revealed. Rape cases have surged, with one occurring every two to three days, highlighting the pervasive fear of retaliation.

The Causes

The horrifying violence experienced by inmates, coupled with the appalling living conditions, contributes to chronic understaffing within Alabama's prisons. New officers, exposed to the grim reality of prison life, frequently resign, unable to cope with the gruesome scenes they witness.

The lack of proper cleaning supplies results in unsanitary conditions that breed sickness. Both inmates and officers fall ill due to these deplorable circumstances. Mold, roaches, and filthy showers only exacerbate an already grim situation.

This tragic state of affairs harkens back to federal investigations four years ago, which found widespread corruption, understaffing, and inadequate supervision in Alabama's prisons. The consequences are severe, with a total 274 of deaths, which is the highest ever recorded in the history of Alabama's prison system - a grim milestone.

New Prison Construction Bill

Now, the state is embarking on the construction of a new prison, touted as a solution to these longstanding problems. However, this project comes at a staggering cost, with estimates exceeding a billion dollars. The price tag has ballooned, and questions loom about the state's ability to fund this project adequately.

Yet, even as the state invests in new facilities, the fundamental issues remain unaddressed. The lack of staff persists, with 700 corrections officers short, as many are dissuaded by the negative publicity surrounding the prison system. A new prison building alone will not fix the deeply ingrained problems that plague Alabama's correctional system.

It's Our Money, and There Are Better Applications

It's high time we, as taxpayers, start asking some tough questions. Why are our lawmakers funneling a staggering $1 billion of our hard-earned money into a correctional system that has not only failed but is marred by corruption, violence, and inefficiency?

With the shocking reports of abuse, rampant corruption among officers, and a rising number of deaths within Alabama's prisons, it's clear that the current system is a disastrous sinkhole of resources and human potential. Instead of pouring more funds into a broken system, it's time for our legislators to be held accountable for their decisions.

We should be demanding a comprehensive overhaul that prioritizes rehabilitation, tackles the root causes of crime, and ultimately makes our communities safer, while also ensuring that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and responsibly. It's our money, and we have the right to ask why it's being wasted on a system that has proven itself ineffective time and time again.

Who To Contact

If you're concerned about Alabama's prison system and believe that your tax dollars are being used ineffectively, it's crucial to channel your feedback through the appropriate channels. Consider reaching out to your local elected officials, such as your city council members, county commissioners, or even your state representatives. Contact the House Representative over your district, which can be found on their website. You could also go straight to the top and contact Governor Ivey herself, and you are sure to find someone you can contact here.

You can engage with advocacy groups focused on criminal justice reform. Alabama Appleseed is a very good one that has actually helped create changes to the system.

Additionally, you may want to explore contacting Steve Marshall, Alabama's Attorney General, or the Alabama Department of Corrections to express your concerns about the criminal justice system. Constructive dialogue and engagement with both local and state officials can be instrumental in addressing issues.

Real Reformation

To truly reform the prison system, Alabama must focus on rehabilitation and consider alternatives to incarceration. Granting parole to nonviolent offenders and investing in programs that help inmates reintegrate into society is a more effective long-term strategy. We must remember that prisons should not be places of suffering and despair but institutions where individuals have the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the state of Alabama faces a dire predicament in its prison system, one characterized by corruption, violence, and inefficiency. The construction of a new prison, while expensive, does not address the root causes of these issues. It's time for Alabama to take a hard look at its approach to criminal justice and prioritize rehabilitation and reform. Only then can the state hope to break free from the cycle of crime and suffering that has plagued its prison system for far too long.

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Ashleigh Nicole is an Alabama-based writer and freelancer, bringing a unique blend of culinary expertise and creative storytelling to the world of writing. The former executive chef at a prominent French bistro was forced to rethink career choice after COVID-19. She is now a truth seeker and news junkie sharing what she finds with her audience. Drawing from her diverse experiences, Ashleigh now uses her storytelling abilities to captivate readers and offer a fresh perspective.

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