Alabama prisons are reported to have the highest homicide rates in the US, and suspicions point to the lack of staff employed by facilities.
On December 2, 29-year-old Vaquerro Kinjuan Armstrong was almost stabbed to death at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. Nearly three hours after the incident, another prisoner at the same prison was also fatally stabbed in a separate fight. Prison violence and deaths in Alabama prisons is the highest in the United States, according to the state’s Department of Corrections.
A report by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Montgomery, found that homicide rate in Alabama prisons is 34 per 100,000 inmates. This rate is over 600% higher than the national average between 2001 and 2014. Charlotte Morrison, an attorney for Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) both inmates and prison staff live under pervading fear of violence erupting.
Staff Shortage Plus Excess Drugs Equals Violence
According to Morrison, “the violence is epidemic” in Alabama prisons and the crisis will only get worse unless the government steps in to initiate relevant prison reforms.
But Bob Horton, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, revealed he found it difficult to agree with EJI’s report. This according to him is because he did not know how the nonprofit came by the statistics in their report. However, he agreed that rising prison violence is directly linked to shortage of prison staff in densely populated prisons.
“The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents,” Horton wrote. “The Alabama Department of Corrections recognizes the seriousness of the problem and is taking steps to reverse this trend.”
Alabama Prisons are Hiring More Officers
Alabama’s Department of Corrections reported that 16 prisoners lost their lives in prison violence between 2017 and 2018. Two fatal stabbings have already occurred this year – that of Armstrong and another individual. Armstrong was convicted for a 2009 first-degree robbery and serving 22 years prison sentence. The second inmate who was stabbed remains unnamed.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said up to 1,800 prison officers need to be added to the present prison system to boost security and lower prison violence. That number is almost double the current prison staff in the state. To this end, the department has commenced hiring more prison staff while increasing the minimum pay of prison officers.
In 2014, EJI filed a lawsuit against Alabama’s Department of Corrections for prison assaults and deaths that occurred at St. Clair correctional facility. For that of Elmore Correctional Facility, EJI opened up investigations recently after reports of violence, stabbings and deaths at the facility.