Mocobizscene-In a single year, Alabama’s prisons witnessed a record-breaking 270 deaths in 2022. Shockingly, 19 of these deaths were classified as homicides. To shed light on the appalling conditions within the state’s prisons, incarcerated individuals, their families, and prison advocates have turned to TikTok. This platform has become a powerful tool for raising awareness, all while the Department of Justice is gearing up to take unprecedented legal action against Alabama.
Alabama’s prisons have long been plagued by a crisis stemming from various factors such as understaffing, overcrowding, violence, drug abuse, and inadequate provisions for medical and mental health care. However, the dire state of the prison system has gained even more attention recently as inmates have taken to social media, using hashtags like #prisontoks and #alabama to highlight and raise awareness about the chaotic conditions they endure.
“His face is entirely swollen, over a week now and he still hasn’t received treatment. Colostomy patients should get 60 bags a month. William only gets 10 a month,” Jemison said. “Alabama healthcare towards prisoners is a joke. In Alabama, people are dying because steps that could be taken – that would cost a little money – are not being taken simply because we are incarcerated people.”
Alabama’s incarceration rates are among the highest in the world and rank sixth among all US states, with their prison system currently operating at 168% capacity. In January, the prison system held nearly 19,000 men, despite being designed to house only 11,000. The US Department of Justice initiated a lawsuit against Alabama in 2020, citing dangerous and overcrowded conditions. The trial was scheduled to begin in 2021, signaling a surprising move by the Trump administration, which typically did not advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals. Former US Attorney General William Barr accepted the lawsuit after several failed attempts to reach a settlement or bypass intervention. In an effort to address the issue, Alabama has allocated nearly $1 billion to build a new prison near Montgomery and has committed an additional $600 million to construct a second mega-prison by 2026. However, the Department of Justice has expressed criticism of these plans, emphasizing that simply constructing more buildings will not effectively solve Alabama’s prison crisis. The inadequate staffing levels further exacerbate the situation.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has reported a staggering 64% vacancy rate in security staffing. Over the past year, there have been multiple instances of correctional officers in the state being apprehended for bribery, corruption, and misconduct. Jemison, the facility’s official, expressed concern that only three officers are currently responsible for overseeing approximately 1,200 inmates at any given time.
“It’s not safe and it’s dangerous for the officers,” said Jemison. “The shortage of staff, no security, overcrowding, this lack of medical care, lack of mental health care … basically turn the mental health crisis into criminal convictions so the majority in here are people with drug addictions and people with mental health issues that shouldn’t be here.”
In 2013, most of Alabama’s mental health hospitals were shut down, resulting in a rise in the number of individuals with mental illnesses being incarcerated. This decision has faced criticism for the state’s high rate of denying parole and its inclination towards imposing harsh penalties, leading to prison overcrowding.
According to their website, ADOC claims to have a mission that inmates would supposedly approve of. However, this statement is false, and it is not the only untruth found on their page. They also claim to value professionalism, integrity, and accountability, but the stories shared by inmates and their families reveal quite the opposite.
“Summertime, that’s when things get the worst because of the heat and a lot of the time they don’t have any water to drink. They don’t have ice, they don’t have anything,” said Rhonda Averhart, an advocate for prisoners in Alabama, referring to the lack of air conditioning and fans that contributes to a lack of safety and violence within the overcrowded prisons in excessive heat. If they started granting paroles and clearing the prisons, things might get a little better. These guys are overcrowded and
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