The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week released its findings for an investigation into abuses at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. Officials have officially found that prison officials violated prisoners' constitutional rights by failing to protect them from sexual abuse by prison staff.
According to the DOJ, Tutwiler Prison was rife with sexual and physical abuse by employees. The findings show that prisoners were forced by correctional officers to perform sexual acts in exchange for sanitary supplies, that a strip show was arranged by correctional officers, and that male corrections officers routinely watched the prisoners shower and use toilets. In addition, the DOJ found that sex between prisoners was encouraged and that prisoners who reported misconduct were punished.
“Our investigation has revealed serious systemic operational deficiencies at Tutwiler that have exposed women prisoners to harm and serious risk of harm from staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and sexual harassment,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. “These problems have been festering for years, and are well known to Alabama prison officials. Remedying these deficiencies is critical to ensuring constitutionally protected treatment of women prisoners at Tutwiler and will promote public safety.”
While corrections officers were the ones found to be abusing prisoners, the DOJ has now placed blame for neglect directly on Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). The new findings show that understaffing at prisons led to underreporting of abuse, as did "inadequate policies and porcedures" in place at the time. Officials are also accused of providing inadequate investigative processes for allegations of abuse while also fostering an environment in which a fear of retaliation may have prevented abuses from being reported.
The DOJ has announced that it will continue to investigate the situation at Tutwiler for any further constitutional violations.
“The department stands ready to work with the state of Alabama on solving the problems at Tutwiler,” said George Beck, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. “The report has identified a very serious and troubling situation at the facility. Action needs to be taken immediately. I am certain that Commissioner Thomas and the governor’s office will continue to cooperate in eradicating these deplorable conditions.”
Image via Alabama Department of Corrections