Inmates' lawyers slam Tutwiler plan

 The Birmingham News

Inmates' lawyers slam Tutwiler plan 


News staff writer

MONTGOMERY Alabama's plan for solving crowding and understaffing at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka "effectively does nothing" to solve the problem, lawyers for the inmates told a federal judge. Lawyers with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights filed a written response Wednesday in federal court to the state's reform plan, saying it would "have no measurable impact on the great overcrowding of the dorms or the extreme lack of supervision in the dormitories." 

"The proposed plan offers a handful of uncoordinated piecemeal gestures unrelated to any short-term or long-term strategy for fully addressing the problems identified in the court's Dec. 2 opinion," the response stated. 

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled on Dec. 2 that Tutwiler is unconstitutionally unsafe and gave the state until Dec. 30 to file a plan to correct the problem. Thompson said Tutwiler is dangerously understaffed with an average of 12 officers supervising nearly 1,000 inmates in the prison, which was built in 1942 to house 365 inmates. 

Thompson said he wanted the state to suggest ways to remedy "the substantial risk of serious harm to prisoners caused by Tutwiler's greatly overcrowded and significantly understaffed open dorms." 

The state's plan , filed on Dec. 30, included a request for Thompson to order Alabama counties to stop sending inmates to Tutwiler for five months while the state Department of Corrections asks the Legislature for emergency funds to make improvements. 

Prison Commissioner Mike Haley told Thompson that his budget request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes $60 million for a new women's prison. But lawyers for inmates said that even if the money is approved, it would take four years for the space to be available and wouldn't relieve emergency conditions at Tutwiler. 

The state report also said six to 18 additional officers will be assigned to Tutwiler when the next officer class graduates in April; inmate access to
razors, mops and brooms will be limited to cut risk of injury from assaults; and an additional psychiatrist will be assigned to the prison. 

"The plan does not have commitments from critical state officials, including the governor and his appointees," lawyers for the inmates told Thompson.
Thompson has set a hearing in the case for 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, the day after Gov.-elect Bob Riley takes office. 

"We will appear before Judge Thompson at that time and let him know our plan of attack for the prison problem," said David Azbell, a spokesman for Riley. 

Lawyers for the inmates said the state's plan makes no mention of any intention of reducing population in the prison dorms or of using community programs and other options available to reduce the population in lockups.

"Minor revisions of ... eligibility regulations, well within what is permitted under statute, could allow significantly more low-risk women to be transferred out of prison and into community placements," they said.