Society

Department of Justice Issues Report Condemning All-But-Sanctioned Sexual Abuse in Alabama Prisons

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Stories of prison and sexual abuse often go hand-in-hand, but a recent Department of Justice report found that the abuse often happened at the hands of the guards and Alabama Department of Corrections all but ignored inmates’ complaints.  The report says that the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman is “a toxic, sexualized environment that permits staff sexual abuse and harassment.” Ironically, the prison is named after Julia Tutwiler, known as the “angel of the prisons” and advocated for Alabama prisoners around the turn of the 20th Century.

“For nearly two decades,” the report says, “Tutwiler [prison] has had a sordid history of sexual abuse and harassment of prisoners that has included rape and pregnancies.” The investigation revealed—through interviews with inmates—that correctional officers will often trade sexual favors for simple amenities like new uniforms or hygiene products. Also, officers will stare at the inmates while they shower and dress.

One incident from 2010 involved “Officer E” who “raped a prisoner.” This resulted in a pregnancy and “subsequent testing confirmed Officer E was the father.” He was sentenced to 180 days in jail. Other such incidents include extensive explicit correspondence before a physical encounter. One such inmate was given a polygraph test and “showed no signs of deception.”

They also noted that Tutwiler “provides no guidance on cross-gender viewing in showers” and during the investigation they saw many male officers enter and “linger” in the shower area without announcing themselves as they should. Ironically, the official explanation for this behavior is to prevent “sexual contact between prisoners.”

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What’s most glaring about the report however is that administration officials “discourage prisoner reporting of sexual abuse due to actual and perceived retaliation against individuals who make allegations.” Also noted was “the complete absence of a grievance system” thus ensuring that all reports of misconduct happen in-house, leaving the prisoners vulnerable to retaliation from their attacker or other staff members.

According to a report from ThinkProgress.org, Tutwiler is just one of four Alabama prisons facing protests about inhumane conditions.