MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Violence continues to plague Alabama’s prison system. This month, the Equal Justice Initiative classified Alabama’s prisons as some of the deadliest in the country.
The latest inmate death was reported on Dec. 2 at Holman Prison - a maximum security facility which houses some of the most violent inmates in the state.
The Alabama Department of Corrections says Holman is operating with less than 50 percent of the required correctional staff.
DOC says it's required to have 195 security staff to cover all shifts at the prison, but only 72 officers cover an inmate population of 951.
“There is a direct correlation between the level of prison violence and the shortage of correctional staff in an overpopulated prison system with limited resources for rehabilitating offenders," stated DOC spokesman Bob Horton in an email. “The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents.”
WSFA 12 News witnessed the criminal activity and contraband behind the walls of Holman Prison firsthand. Through Facebook, we obtained a picture of Demaricous Mack, convicted of murder in Montgomery. He’s serving a life sentence in Holman Prison. The account had more than a dozen pictures of Mack posing throughout the prison, several showed Mack with a Little Caesars Pizza box, Popeyes chicken and an illegal cell phone.
Two Facebook live videos were also on the account. One showed two inmates who were likely high on the drug flakka, which has similar effects as bath salts, the second video showed a nearly 30 minute long prison boxing match where the public was wagering on the fights.
No corrections officers could be seen in either video.
Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey says he wasn't surprised to learn an inmate posting pictures of prison contraband with an illegal cell phone was prosecuted by his office.
“I can tell you who is running the Department of Corrections, the inmates are running the Department of Corrections,” Bailey said.
In fact, Bailey watched the video of the inmates seizing from flakka in real time after someone sent him a link.
“At one time there were 6,000 people watching,” Bailey said.
The video shows an inmate on the prison floor with his body contorted, the second inmate is babbling, upside down on a prison bed, unable to move his body. The prisoners are horsing around with the two inmates, and eventually both become conscious and begin to fight. At least four inmates are videoing the incident on cell phones.
“We need to start holding people accountable,” Bailey said. “How are they charging the cell phones? They are coming in from somewhere, this is like a frat house, not a prison.”
Aside from the resources spent to investigate and prosecute violent crime cases, Bailey says he's most upset about what this could mean for the work he does with the county's youth.
“One of the things I talk to kids about is how bad prison is and why you never want to go to prison,” Bailey said. “Then we have some of these folks who are on Facebook Live talking about how great prison is, look we have our cell phones, we can FaceTime, we can eat Popeyes chicken and Little Caesars Pizza, we can do drugs. What are we suppose to tell the kids now? It’s apparently one big party at the Alabama Department of Corrections.”
WSFA 12 News immediately sent our findings over to the Alabama Department of Corrections. Spokesman Bob Horton confirms the department launched an investigation.
“The Alabama Department of Corrections Investigations and Intelligence Division is aware of the inmate’s activity and is conducting a thorough investigation into the social media accounts and how the inmate obtained the cellphone and other contraband,” Horton stated in an email. “ADOC dispatched Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore where the teams conducted a search of the facility for contraband. During the search, the teams confiscated illegal contraband, to include cell phones, which were turned over to the Investigations and Intelligence Division.”
DOC did not respond to our specific questions regarding whether inmates were allowed to hold boxing matches, how many cell phones were seized or if any DOC employees were implicated.
Horton confirmed 4,241 cell phones were seized in 2016 and 3,883 cell phones were seized in 2017.
A month following our discovery, inmate Vaquerro Armstrong, 29, was fatally stabbed at Holman Prison. Hours later another inmate was critically injured after being stabbed in a subsequent fight. Following the two incidents, the CERT team seized makeshift weapons, illegal cell phones, drugs and other contraband.
The ADOC confirms it’s aggressively working to reverse these dangerous trends with short-term and long-term solutions.
Immediately prison officials moved 30 inmates to other facilities in an effort to mitigate violence inside Holman, and it’s increased staffing in its Investigation and Intelligence Division to prevent future violence and corruption.
“ADOC is developing a long-term plan that will revitalize the prison system’s infrastructure and lead to safer and more secure correctional facilities for both inmates and staff," Horton commented.
WSFA 12 News reached out to Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has been intimately involved in measures related to the ADOC. Ward says we can expect to see multiple bills regarding Alabama’s prison system, specifically one that would authorize the hiring of upwards of 2,000 corrections officers. That measure would cost the state around $40 million.
It’s a Class C felony for inmates to possess a cell phone, wireless communication device or computer, it’s also a Class C felony anyone to possess with the intent to deliver those devices to inmates.
If you are aware of an inmate with a cellphone or contraband, you can contact ADOC through their website www.doc.alabama.gov or call 1-866-293-7799.