In recent weeks the Julia Tutwiler Prison for women has come under fire amidst allegations that a number of its male prison guards have been sexually abusing, harassing and even raping female inmates for years.
Legal aid group, Equal Justice Initiative or EJI filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on May 22nd after being approached by former Tutwiler prisoner, Stephanie Hibbett. Based on subsequent interviews with over 50 current and former prisoners, EJI has found that corruption, abuse and secrecy are a way of life at Tutwiler.
The DOJ then launched an investigation into the facility and its staff members.
Alabama Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas does not appear to believe that Tutwiler has a problem policing its employees. Kim told the Associated Press that the department is not conducting its own separate investigation, noting that the facility already aggressively pursues claims of sexual abuse when reported.
Equal Justice Initiative Executive Director, Bryan Stevenson feels differently.
Bryan has gained much notoriety over the years for helping right the wrongs of the justice system in his home state of Alabama, ensuring that people of color and those of low socioeconomic status receive justice equal to those more affluent.
When Sister 2 Sister asked Bryan about Kim’s impassive response to these atrocious allegations, he expressed his disappointment in the commissioner’s apathy. “We were hoping for a more vigorous response, or at least a more committed response than what we saw.” He also noted, “Officers that were prosecuted received only minor charges.”
Bryan describes the overarching problem as an autonomous cycle of abuse and concealment where the department doesn’t ask, and inmates are scared to tell. “Women are not going to subject themselves to more punishment and harassment if they don’t think that anything will come of their complaints.”
He attributes part of the problem to the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act, suggesting, “many correctional officials do not feel at risk (of disciplinary action), even when there have been horrific violations of the basic rights of incarcerated people.”
The compulsory need of Tutwiler to make changes at the institutional level is something Bryan emphasized, stressing, “If we’re really committed to eliminating these problems, then I don’t think you can engage people that are going to be deliberately indifferent to this kind of abuse in leadership roles.”
Regardless of what happens at Tutwiler, Bryan Stevenson and EJI have raised the public’s level of awareness to a problem that has become increasingly pervasive in our prison system. “Our hope is that any institution responsible for protecting the safety of incarcerated people will think a lot more carefully about this issue than they have in the past.“
What can be done to prevent sexual assault against inmates by guards and staff in prison? Leave your comments below.
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