Deaths Continue to Mount in Alabama Prison Crisis


Years after the U.S. Justice Department found that “conditions in Alabama’s prisons are objectively unsafe,” inhumane conditions continue to threaten the thousands of people in the state’s custody.

In the past 30 days, 11 men incarcerated at Donaldson Correctional Facility near Bessemer, Alabama, have died. The 11 men include Mitchell Cosby, who was stabbed to death on June 15 at Donaldson.

While the Alabama Department of Corrections has not publicly provided cause of death information for the other deaths, EJI investigated reports that the majority of these deaths involved younger men who, according to family members, did not suffer preexisting health conditions apart from injuries sustained during assaults at the prison.

In some cases, family members reported that they were not notified about their loved one’s death or were unable to get information about what happened to them.

These include the family of Matthew Mork, 33, who died at Donaldson Correctional Facility on June 20. According to reports received by EJI, Mr. Mork was physically and sexually assaulted repeatedly in the months leading up to his death. He was placed in a medically induced coma after suffering a cardiac event. His family reportedly was not allowed to visit him in the hospital and was not told what happened to him despite repeated calls to the prison and ADOC.

One week later, Maxamillion Ward, 36, died at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital on June 28 after being transported from Donaldson on June 23. Although multiple news sources reported that Mr. Ward was hospitalized due to a possible drug overdose, a spokesperson from ADOC told the Montgomery Advertiser he was taken to UAB to be treated for “complications due to a wound.”

On July 2, 36-year-old Kenneth James died at Donaldson one day before his daughter’s birthday after he was found unresponsive on the floor of his segregated housing cell. Alabama Political Reporter reported that Mr. James was assaulted at the prison in October 2021 and suffered ongoing symptoms of head trauma. His family members told APR they called the prison for three days trying to get information about what happened without success.

Soaring summer temperatures also elevate dangers in Alabama’s prisons, as severe understaffing and inadequate physical facilities leave many incarcerated people in Alabama unable to get help even as violence and heat-related health emergencies increase.

An analysis by the Montgomery Advertiser found that over the past 10 years, more assaults occurred in Alabama’s prisons in July and August than in any other months. The number of attempted suicides in the prisons also peaked in August.