Aug. 20, 2002

Suit blasts prison conditions

By Mike Cason
Montgomery Advertiser

Prisoners claim Julia Tutwiler Prison is vastly
overcrowded and dangerous

Fifteen female inmates sued the state Monday, alleging dangerous conditions, lack of medical treatment and other problems at Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. 

Tutwiler is the state's only prison for women and houses 1,001 inmates. Originally, it was designed for 364.

"Women prisoners in Alabama are at a substantial risk  of serious injury and death due to the outrageously overcrowded and dangerous conditions," at Tutwiler and two work release centers, the lawsuit states.

The Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta law firm that specializes in death row defense and prison lawsuits, is representing the inmates.

The suit was filed in federal court in Montgomery.

Lisa Kung, an attorney at the center, said the lawsuit was based on a growing number of complaints received from inmates and their families.

Kung said many of Tutwiler's inmates are serving timefor drug possession writing bad checks and nonviolent offenses.

"The majority of women are in prison for drugs and drug-related crimes," Kung said. "When the genesis of the crime is drug addiction, the smart thing to do is to provide drug treatment." 

Kung said the plaintiffs would ask the court to give the case class action status, which would mean all female inmates in Alabama would be affected. The plaintiffs have asked for a hearing within the next two weeks.

Kung said mentally ill inmates live in the general prison population. She said that claim is based on interviews with inmates.

Kung said an inmate recently was attacked and cut with a razor by another inmate who suffered from a mental illness.

Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of  Corrections, said an inmate did attack and cut another on June 28. The victim has recovered, Corbett said.

The assailant had been in prison for more than seven years, but had never been diagnosed as mentally ill, Corbett said. She claimed that "voices" told her to attack, Corbett said.

The lawsuit also claims that "unbearably hot" conditions in the prison increase the tension and danger.

Corbett said there are no plans to provide air conditioning at Tutwiler or any other state prison.

"The taxpayers don't want to pay to air condition prisons for inmates," Corbett said.