Alabama’s St. Clair Correctional Facility is one of the nation’s worst prisons. It has the dubious distinction of the prison with the nation’s highest homicide rate and among the highest suicide rates. Recently, the New York Times received over 2,000 photos taken inside the prison from the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”), which told the newspaper they had received these disturbing images on a thumb drive, supposedly from a corrections officer.
The photos appear to be part of an official record of the violence and rule-breaking going on within the facility. The Times determined that most of the photos were too graphic to publish, and there were also privacy issues involved, but reporters described the sheer horror of many of the pictures. The photos also confirmed the long-held rumor that inmates were heavily armed for their own protection. While the newspaper could not publish more than a few photos, it allowed its reporters to describe them.
The Dead and Wounded
Dozens of wounded men are depicted in the photos. One was stabbed nearly a dozen times, while another man’s back contained a shiv between the shoulder blades. An inmate had a huge hole in his lip, while a photo of handcuffed wrists showed 15 distinct slashes. While suffering, at least these men were still alive.
The thumb drive also contained photos of three dead inmates, along with pictures of seven men murdered in the jail. The New York Times identified the latter via news reports and booking photos. Among them was one man serving a life sentence for a third-degree burglary under Alabama’s three strikes law. He was killed in his cell, his face bashed in.
One reporter commented that she couldn’t tell whether she was looking at photos of a jail or a 19th-century battlefield. Pictures showed blood everywhere – in the toilets, in puddles on the floor, bloody footprints, and bloody messages scrawled on walls. One read, “I ask everyone for help. Mental Health won’t help.”
Weapons confiscated from prisoners were also featured, and these were photos the newspaper felt comfortable running. There were knives made of all sorts of materials, including fan blades. Some inmates devised homemade machetes, while others constructed armor from various items to protect themselves, using magazines and books as padding. Some of the homemade knives had grips designed specifically for their users’ hands.
In the past two years, 24 inmates have been murdered in the Alabama prison system, with six of the killings taking place at St. Clair’s. In just the past seven months, four men were stabbed to death at St Clair’s. A convicted murderer stabbed to death in February had requested protection from corrections officers in the weeks before his death, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Rather than place the inmate in protective housing after he was threatened, he was instead placed in a particularly violent prison dorm, where he was stabbed the day after his arrival. The killings don’t compare to the suicide rate, however, which averages one per month. A federal judge began a mini-trial in late March regarding the facility’s suicide prevention measures, two years after the judge ruled that mental health care in the Alabama prison system is “horrendously inadequate.”
Testimony during the mini-trial included discussions of guards ignoring banging from the cell of an inmate who subsequently killed himself, and another who killed himself the day after release from a mental health observation in the infirmary even though his evaluation sheet indicated he might cause himself harm.
Why It Is So Bad
There are lots of reasons why the violence at St. Clair’s is so bad, but the main focus is on understaffing and overcrowding. There is little to nothing available to inmates in the forms of rehabilitative services, education or mental health treatment. That means inmates spend their days in their housing units, with little supervision from guards. Security functions, such as searching for weapons and contraband, are virtually nonexistent.
Newly admitted inmates are assigned to dorms without first identifying any potential problems. The result is chaos, and it doesn’t seem like it will improve anytime soon.
Inmates have the right not to be abused. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.