DOJ Finds Rape and Abuse of Women at Tutwiler Prison in AL 'Unconstitutional'

If reading about the rape and sexual abuse of women is a trigger for you, please skip this.

If fighting back against it — wherever it occurs — is part of your moral, personal and political agenda, read on.

Department of Justice finds conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison to be unconstitutional, Mike Cason wrote January 17, 2014 at 6:17 PM, and updated this story on January 18th.

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- The U.S. Department of Justice said today that conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison violate the Constitution, citing what it called "a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuses and harassment." DOJ sent investigators to Tutwiler last April and reported their findings in a 36-page letter to Gov. Robert Bentley.

"The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety," the report stated. "They live in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including: abusive sexual contact between staff and prisoners; sexualized activity, including a strip show condoned by staff; profane and unprofessional sexualized language and harassment; and deliberate cross-gender viewing of prisoners showering, urinating and defecating," the report stated. DOJ said the conditions violate the Eighth Amendment right to be protected from harm. It said problems go back almost two decades. The DOJ also said it will expand its investigation to look into medical and mental health care for inmates and other issues.

Rape is a terrible and violent crime with long lasting physical and emotional effects. Most women (and men) who survive the ordeal can — with help — learn to live with the scars and the memories. But imagine being locked up with your abusers, knowing that you face years and years of abuse, with little or no recourse. When your rapist has the power of the state behind him. When he is your guard, hired to keep you in line, and punish you with his power. Knowing the the world outside of the prison walls, and barbed wire has basically wiped its hands of you, since nothing is viewed as lower in our society than female felons. Imagine the repercussions of being impregnated by your abuser.

Such is the case with the women who are doing time in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Alabama, ironically named for a noted prison reformer. This is not to say that rape doesn't take place in other penal institutions. But Tutwiler has a reputation for exceeding the bounds of brutality.  Mother Jones placed Tutwiler on its list of America's 10 worst prisons.

From 2009 through 2011, six Tutwiler employees were indicted on charges of custodial sexual misconduct or custodial sexual abuse. (All pled guilty, but only two served time.)

Several Tutwiler prisoners have become pregnant after being raped by guards. And women who complained about staff abuse were often placed in solitary. The women of Tutwiler, EJI executive director Bryan Stevenson told Birmingham TV station WBRC, live with "this fear that you're always at risk, that it's not safe to take a shower, that it's not safe to go to sleep when certain officers are in the dorm, that you can be extorted, that you can be manipulated into sexual favors, it's really horrific."...

Interviews conducted at the prison for a November 2012 Justice Department report (PDF) supported the pattern of sexual abuse alleged by EJI. Some of the prisoners said they "do not feel physically or sexually safe in this facility," the report noted. Among other things, the women said they were "forced to shower shoulder to shoulder in full view of an elevated officer's station" where male staffers sat and watched. "The women and staff report that Tutwiler is a repressive and intimidating environment," the report states. "Inmates reported being in fear of retaliation by staff if they reject staff's sexual advances. Additionally, they report that they feel that they cannot bring their complaints to the administration, as they will be locked down if they annoy or anger some administrators."

The smarmy head of the Alabama Department of Corrections, Kim Thomas is in full "cya" mode, splainin' all this in an op-ed, and recently replaced the warden of the facility, with another jailer. As my grandmother was known to say he's "closing the barn door after the horse got out." The warden, whose watch presided over the daily abuses, was not fired or charged with culpability, and simply switched to another facility. Reminds me of all those priests who simply got transferred to a different diocese.  

Thanks to the Equal Justice Initiative, for their tireless work, defending the rights of the incarcerated, and to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for taking an aggressive stance.  

You can support the women of Tutwiler on this Facebook page.

Cross-posted from Black Kos

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