Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama prison violence said not reported

Read the article at Montgomery or below.


December 23, 2009

When the Alabama Department of Corrections was expending lots of taxpayer dollars to fight a lawsuit by an inmate’s family to open its records, we asked in an editorial what the agency was trying to hide.

Perhaps now Alabamians know the answer to that question.

According to both a prisoner rights group and a group representing corrections officers, records released in that lawsuit indicate the department consistently has underreported violent incidents at the high security Donaldson Correctional facility near Bessemer.

The allegations by these groups raise serious questions about the accuracy of reports on assaults and other violent incidents in the state’s many other prison facilities.

According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, an analysis of records ordered released by the courts showed that the department’s Monthly Statistical Report for April 2008 to April 2009 underreported the number of assaults against inmates and correctional officers in every month but one.

Among the inaccuracies alleged by the center were:

The department’s March 2009 public statistical report stated that there were no assaults, fights or sexual assaults at Donaldson, but internal department reports show two knifings, two other assaults with weapons, and seven assaults or fights without weapons in that month. The center claims the reports show one of the assaults required a prisoner to be transported to the hospital for eye trauma; another required a prisoner to be transported to the hospital after being beaten in the face with a lock; a third prisoner was severely beaten with a piece of wood; another alleged he was raped.

The center claims the department disclosed one “assault with serious injury” between April 2008 and April 2009, when at least 16 prisoners at Donaldson were taken to outside hospitals for emergency treatment for violent trauma during the period.

In June, the Correction Department statistical report showed no assaults or fights at Donaldson. But court-released documents show six fights or assaults, including one in which a prisoner was stabbed 15 times and had to be taken to an outside hospital.

But it isn’t just an outside prisoner rights organization making such claims. The Alabama Correctional Organization said that the reports released in the lawsuit show the department is drastically underreporting attacks on officers.

The organization claims the department publicly reported 45 assaults by prisoners against officers from January 2008 through July of this year, but that internal documents show 68 actually occurred during the period.

Corrections Department officials deny knowingly reported false statistics. But whether they did it knowingly still begs the question of the accuracy of such reports by the department’s other prisons.

Gov. Bob Riley has made openness in government a watch phrase for his administration. But such open reporting is worth less than nothing if it is not accurate.

We urge Riley to require that Department of Correction officials review all internal records and update public statistics to accurately reflect what really goes on in the prisons. And they should do it for every facility, not just Donaldson.


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