MONTGOMERY — Members of a legislative committee said Tuesday that problems at Tutwiler Prison and other correctional facilities will likely continue until the state’s prison system is adequately funded.
Members of the Legislature’s Joint Prison Oversight Committee met with Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas to discuss a Justice Department report released last week that criticized the way female inmates are treated at Alabama’s lone prison for women.
The National Institute of Corrections study said prisoners have reported sexual abuse and officials haven’t always treated those complaints in the proper manner.
“If we don’t do anything about the severe overcrowding, we’re not going to solve the problem. What you need to do is take a bulldozer to Tutwiler and bulldoze it down,” Democratic Rep. John Rogers, of Birmingham, told Thomas of the women’s prison in Wetumpka that was built in 1942.
The report also said the prison is dirty and overcrowded, and staffers aren’t trained well enough. The review found that inmates don’t trust the prison’s complaint system, and claims prisoners are sometimes punished for complaining.
The department studied the prison after a Montgomery-based group leveled complaints of rape, harassment and sexual assault at Tutwiler last year.
Prison officials said they are changing policies to make improvements. Thomas said prison officials are responding to some complaints in the report including by making more storage space available to female inmates. He said several reports that female inmates had been assaulted by male officers are being investigated.
Responding to questions from legislators he said there have been two cases of inmates becoming pregnant, apparently from having sex with officers.
In one case he said the inmate had been released from prison at the time of the sex, but later returned to Tutwiler. In both cases, Thomas said the officers were reprimanded.
Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures, of Mobile, applauded Thomas for having the study done, but told him he shouldn’t stop with Tutwiler.
“Not only did we need a study on Tutwiler, we need one on every prison in the state,” Figures said.
The committee’s chairman Republican Sen. Cam Ward, of Alabaster, said lawmakers should make the prisons a priority.
“It we really care about the 10th Amendment and preserving state’s rights, we should do everything we can to keep the federal courts from taking over the prison system,” Ward said.
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