Tutwiler Prison: A House Of Horrors For Female Inmates

Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama is under fire after a Justice Department investigation accused Alabama Officials of violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates at the prison from sexual abuse and harassment.

According to ABC News, the Justice Department said that the “nearly 900 women incarcerated at the maximum-security prison live ‘in a toxic environment with repeated and open sexual behavior.'”

“As part of the alleged abuses, male officers openly watched women shower or use the toilet, staff helped organize a ‘strip show,’ prisoners received a constant barrage of sexually offensive language, and prisoners who reported improper conduct were punished, according to the department.”

My Fox Alabama reported that in a letter to Alabama governor Robert Bentley on Friday, the US Department of Justice said that 36 percent of the prison staff had sex with female inmates and “if all other sexual activities were included that number would nearly double.” According to ABC News, investigators concluded the “Alabama Department of Corrections and officials at Tutwiler have been ‘well aware of the multitude of structural problems that allow this abuse and harassment to continue unabated.'”

“Officials have been on notice for over eighteen years of the risks to women prisoners and, for over eighteen years, have chosen to ignore them,” the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels, said in the letter. “In that time, inmates have been raped, sodomized and fondled by prison staff, yet officials remain deliberately indifferent to the serious and significant need to protect women prisoners.”

Reports state that in addition to the number of alleged forms of sexual abuse and harassment, the report found that the number of actual reported cases were grossly under-reported due to the fact that inmates feared retaliation for speaking up.

Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative said “It’s a culture of indifference to the kinds of complaints we’ve been making: nobody cares about prisoners, so if we beat them up, we exploit them sexually, they have too little power for anyone to care.”

According to the letter, the investigation into the treatment of female inmates at Tutwiler Prison for Women began back in February 2013. As a part of the investigation, the Justice Department not only conducted an on-site inspection, but also interviewed prisoners, staff and collected a variety of documentation including letters from prisoners. The letters detailed a variety of concerns including:

“sexual abuse and harassment; unprofessional and profane language; dehumanizing behavior; and discriminatory treatment on the basis of national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Prisoners also reported inadequate medical care; excessive use of force and threats of force; and inadequate access to clean clothes, uniforms, and hygiene products, including tampons and sanitary pads (especially for indigent prisoners).”

“Action needs to be taken immediately,” George Beck Jr., the US attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, said in a statement according to ABC News. The Justice Department has said that this isn’t going to be the end of the investigation. Reports state that the department said its investigation will now look at more potential violations of prisoners’ rights, including “allegations of excessive force and constitutionally inadequate conditions of confinement and health care.”

[Image by Rivers A. Langley; SaveRivers via Wikimedia Commons]