Family members urge policy makers to implement prison reforms

Family members talk about prison conditions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Family members wanted the voices of their loved ones behind prison walls to be heard by members on the Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy Wednesday morning. They shared the harsh conditions inmates face behind prison walls.

“He has been denied medical care," Shelby County resident Courtney Davis said to study group members.

Davis said her husband, David Davis, was sentenced to prison for manslaughter after a car crash. Davis suffered injuries resulting in hernias but she said he has not received the medical attention needed.

“I’ve seen how people are forgotten and overlooked and just a number on a chart so we’re trying to make something good come out of this," Davis said.

Davis along with different families pleaded Wednesday with Alabama policy makers and the ADOC commissioner to implement prison reforms.

Another family member, Sandy Ray, said her son, Steven Davis, was beaten to death by Alabama correctional officers in October. Davis said she has not gotten answers as to why this happened.

“My son was beat to death," she said. "We don’t treat dogs this way.”

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Wednesday he could not release the details of Steven Davis’ death because the situation is under investigation.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in April that Alabama’s prison conditions could result in a federal lawsuit against the state. The Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy was created months ago to study the current prison situation and research avenues to fix the problems.

The group made up of lawmakers and other state leaders heard testimonies from advocacy groups Wednesday on ways to reduce the prison population, rehabilitate inmates, stop the violence, and prevent inmates from returning to prison.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb said drug courts are the best sentencing reform.

“They are leaving Alabama’s prisons and they are more addicted today than when they entered the prisons,” she said.

Cobb said in the last 10 months 13 inmates had been murdered.

“ADOC has got to come forward with some bold steps,” she said.

Groups like the Ordinary People Society advocated for inmates to have direct access to health care before they are on parole. This would allow them to have care, get housing, and have insurance set up beforehand, according to the group.

Dunn said hiring more corrections officers will curb the violence behind prison walls.

“Correctional staff is our greatest need right now," he said. “We have needs in the area of health care, mental health treatment, and those types of things.”

Much of the requests from advocates require legislative approval, which most likely will not be considered until the legislative session next year. When asked what is being done to prevent further deaths within the system, Dunn said the department implemented consistent contraband searches and investigate corrupt officers.

Dunn also said the department had hired more than 400 correctional officers within the last six months. However, a court order requires around 2,000 more officers.

Dunn said that resolving the prison system situation will not be a quick fix.

“I think unfortunately this is a problem that’s been created over 30 years of neglect," Dunn said.

But Courtney Davis prays the changes will come sooner rather than later so she can see her husband out of prison alive.

“His punishment was to be away from his family for 20 years. Not to die a slow painful death in prison," Davis said.

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