LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) -Utter hell.
Those were the words one former inmate’s mother decried when describing the conditions of Limestone County Correctional facility in Harvest, AL.
Dozens of prisoners’ relatives and advocates joined the mother in lambasting the conditions of the state prison at a protest on Saturday.
Protesters posted up alongside the overgrown, narrow, two lane road across from the penitentiary, waving posters, chanting for reform, and declaring their support for the inmates.
“Dogs get better treatment than these inmates," said the mother. “These are humans, but we are treating them worse than dogs at the pound.”
During his sentence, she said her son suffered from heat exhaustion, daily beatings from guards and fellow inmates, hunger, and chronic illness.
“They knocked his teeth out and he didn’t want to fight back because he didn’t want to get another charge. He wanted out,” she continued. “He lost half of his teeth. He was hospitalized twice for illnesses he caught while in prison."
Her son wasn’t the only one.
Other protesters echoed equally horrifying stories.
An attorney participating in the protest said his client told him he hadn’t showered in three days.
“It wasn’t your typical locker room sweat smell. It reeked. It smelled like something had died,” said the attorney who wished to remain anonymous.
“The corrupt administration at Limestone County needs to go and that’s Captain Roberson who implemented the bucket detail which is pretty much shackling someone to a bucket in the name of finding contraband,” said another woman.
Bucket detail refers to shackling and taping prisoners to buckets for days on end until they defecate into the bucket multiple times, allegedly in an effort to discover hidden contraband.
Numbers back the anecdotal evidence.
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADC) 2017 annual report, the most recent available, inmate population has declined for the past four years. The decline, however, only brought the occupancy rate to 160 percent with a drop to 150 percent expected in the next two years.
To make matter worse, the prisons are dramatically understaffed.
The ratio of inmate to correctional officer is 14.3 to 1. Nationally, the average is roughly 4 to 1.
Overcrowded and understaffed, Alabama prisons has the highest prison homicide rate in the county. 10 times the national average to be exact.
These findings are nothing new.
Alabama’s men’s prison routinely violate inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from violence and other abuse.
In April, the Justice Department threatened to sue the state after a sweeping investigation that revealed the brutal conditions in the Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed facilities.
The scathing report was released just two months after Governor Kay announced that her administration would seek bids to build three regional prisons for men to replace aging, cramped facilities that the Alabama Department of Correction said were too costly to maintain and repair.
But neither the Justice Department nor the people present at Saturday’s protest believe “new, state of the art prisons” can correct the problems in the Alabama prison system.
The report said new prisons might solve some problems but said, “new facilities alone will not resolve the contributing factors to the overall unconstitutional conditions.”
“Prisons don’t hurt people. The buildings did not harm my son. It’s the lack of leadership. It’s the corruption from within," said the mother of a former inmate.
“They need intervention and education. Who do you want as your neighbor? Do you want someone who was turned into an animal because of how they were treated or do you want someone who was rehabilitated?”
Plagued with problems, the corruption and overcrowding in Alabama prisons aren’t going away anytime soon, nor will the nightmares of so many inmates.
“Even though he’s out of prison, the scary memories from prison still haunt him,” said the mother of a former inmate.