Another incarcerated person has been killed in Alabama’s prison system.
According to reports received by EJI, Roman Salinas, 31, died after being assaulted by a group of incarcerated people at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clio, Alabama. He had multiple head contusions, a brain bleed, multiple fractured ribs, a ruptured spleen, and his kidneys had shut down. Mr. Salinas was removed from life support at Flowers Hospital in Dothan, Alabama, on September 22.
Witnesses report that Mr. Salinas was assaulted on two separate occasions in the days leading up to his death. After the first assault, he was treated in the infirmary. In an administrative decision that may have cost Mr. Salinas his life, prison staff sent him back to his dorm after the initial assault despite his extensive injuries and even though they were aware that he was the target of violence.
Mr. Salinas is at least the 13th person killed in Alabama’s prisons this year, and the 77th person killed since the Justice Department opened its statewide investigation into Alabama’s prison system in October 2016.
Federal prosecutors informed state officials more than three years ago that the Alabama Department of Corrections’s failure to protect incarcerated people from violence and sexual abuse amounted to a constitutional violation.
The Justice Department specifically called out situations like the killing of Mr. Salinas, writing that “ADOC is frequently unable to protect its prisoners from violence, despite having advance notice that the prisoners may be in danger.” Federal investigators pointed to numerous instances where men were assaulted or killed within weeks after an initial assault.
The Justice Department identified understaffing as a major risk factor behind the escalating violence in Alabama’s prisons. ADOC statistical reports show that two out of every three correctional officer positions (160 out of 238) at Ventress were unfilled in September 2016.
By June 2018, understaffing was actually worse—70% of authorized officer positions were unstaffed, an “egregious level of understaffing” that the Justice Department said “equates to inadequate supervision that results in substantial risk of serious harm.”
Then-ADOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn acknowledged these problems. He told the Alabama Legislature in 2019 that “there is a direct correlation between the shortage of officers in our prisons and the increase in violence” and said ADOC needed to hire thousands of additional staff in order to provide constitutionally adequate supervision.
Staffing levels at many Alabama prisons nonetheless have continued to fall. The number of correctional officers at Ventress has declined by 20%, from 106 officers in September 2016 to just 84 in March 2022.