Alabama Prison Crisis Continues with Homicide at Ventress


Justin Blaine Denson, 44, has died after suffering serious head injuries in an assault at Ventress Correctional Facility near Clayton, Alabama. He is at least the eighth person killed in an Alabama prison this year. 

EJI received multiple reports that Mr. Denson was assaulted by a group of other men incarcerated at Ventress on or around May 16. He was rushed by emergency helicopter to a nearby hospital, where he was declared brain dead and placed on palliative care. Mr. Denson died three weeks later on June 5.

The Department of Justice began investigating conditions in Alabama’s prisons in 2016 and notified the state in 2019 of its findings that Alabama “routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners” by failing to protect them from rampant violence and sexual abuse.

“In the 20 months following the United States’ original notification to the State of Alabama of unconstitutional conditions of confinement,” federal prosecutors wrote in a lawsuit filed in December 2020, “Alabama prisoners have continued daily to endure a high risk of death, physical violence, and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners.”

An updated complaint filed in May 2021 adds that unless Alabama officials are forced by a court to implement changes, the “pattern or practice of failing to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners will continue.” 

In the 18 months since the Justice Department filed its lawsuit, at least 19 people have been killed in Alabama’s prisons.

During that time, the State has awarded contracts worth more than $6 million to outside lawyers to defend the Alabama Department of Corrections in lawsuits brought by victims of violence in the state’s prisons.