Following local media reporting on state corrections officials’ failure to address the crisis of violence at Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama, the Justice Department told WHNT News this week that the prison “fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm.”
The Justice Department is suing the Alabama Department of Corrections for the state’s failure to protect incarcerated people from physical and sexual violence. In an amended complaint last May, federal prosecutors said the state still has not addressed “pervasive and systemic” violence in its prisons, including Limestone.
In fact, in the wake of ADOC’s inaction, assaults at Limestone have nearly tripled in the past two years, from 48 in 2019 to 142 in 2021. Eighty-six assaults have been reported in the first half of this year alone.
Local news media have reported extensively on the escalating violence in recent weeks in response to calls from family members of people attacked at Limestone who told reporters they were being stonewalled by prison officials.
Prison officials refused to update the family of a man who suffered a skull fracture, collapsed lung, and blindness in one eye in an assault at Limestone until WAAY-TV News broadcast the story.
And it was only after WHNT’s report about a mother pleading for medical attention for her son after he was attacked at Limestone that the man was placed in protective custody.
Understaffing—identified by federal prosecutors as a priority for addressing unconstitutional conditions in Alabama’s prisons—has fallen to dangerously low levels at Limestone, where the prison has fewer than half the correctional officers needed.
One Limestone staffer told WHNT that people are literally dying for lack of staff. “Some of the incidents, they die because we can’t reach them on time, and we are covering multiple posts,” he said. “It messes you up mentally.”
WAAY reported that, even though ADOC’s own standards require 32 officers per shift at Limestone, it is common to have fewer than 18, which leaves only one officer in each dorm of 200 people. That means staff are unable to conduct the searches vital for reducing dangerous contraband.
“Limestone is in a dire need of assistance at this point,” one staffer told WAAY, “and no one is willing to give us assistance in the higher levels of our department. It is almost like they want us to get hurt or fail.”
The violent and abusive conditions throughout Alabama’s prisons are also rooted in overcrowding and a failure of leadership.
Both problems are readily apparent at Limestone, where the prison is currently at 140% of capacity and the last two wardens were forced to resign after allegations of misconduct.