Justice Dept. Accuses Alabama Women’s Prison of Rampant Sexual Abuse

Monday, January 27, 2014
(photo: Alabama Department of Corrections)

Female prisoners at an Alabama prison have been subjected to a “toxic, sexualized environment” as a result of abuses and misconduct by staff that have gone on since the 1990s, according to federal investigators.


The U.S. Department of Justice says conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women are unconstitutional, due to harassment and sexual assaults of inmates by guards. The investigation (pdf), conducted last April, found violations that included verbal abuse, voyeurism, and forced sexual contact between prisoners and staff.


Also, the Justice Department learned that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) knew problems at Tutwiler had existed since 1995, but failed to address the situation.


“Eighteen years since notifying ADOC and Tutwiler officials of inappropriate sexual activity between staff and prisoners, problems in the area of sexual abuse and harassment have only worsened,” the report states.


Incidents of sexual abuse and harassment were committed by more than half of the prison’s staff, and more than one-third of them were found to have had sex with prisoners. There are 900 female inmates at the prison.


The prison lacked any kind of system to track complaints lodged against staff, resulting in dozens of violations by individual guards, some of whom were labeled sexual predators, according to the report.


One guard had nearly 40 reported incidents of misconduct, while another had 27 and two others had 19.


Female inmates often traded sex for necessities, including uniforms and hygiene products, as well as for drugs and alcohol. Those who reported the misconduct received threats and punishment.


“Staff and prisoners continue to engage in overt and inappropriate sexual behavior at Tutwiler, most recently within days of our arrival. This behavior is indicative of the need for critical institutional reforms that will not only address the underlining causes of the harm but also identify and implement sustainable reforms. To this end, ADOC must take on an active role in monitoring the changes made at Tutwiler. It is no longer enough to delegate the changes to the Tutwiler officials without expansive oversight,” the report stated.


Tutwiler was ranked, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007, as the first among women's prisons and the11th among 146 prisons across the country for frequency of sexual assaults on inmates.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Over Two Decades, 'Sexual Abuse and Harassment Have Only Worsened' at Julia Tutwiler Prison (by Kelsey Stein, AL.com)

Alabama Prison Was House of Horrors for Female Inmates, Feds Say (by Jack Cloherty, Mike Levine and Pierre Thomas, ABC News)

DOJ to Expand Tutwiler Investigation (by Matt Okarmus, Montgomery Advertiser)

Investigation Into Sexual Violence at Tutwiler Prison for Women (Equal Justice Initiative) (pdf)

Letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley re Tutwiler Federal Investigation (U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division) (pdf)

Alabama First State to Require Fingerprints of Prison Visitors (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Alabama Judge Shuts Down Private Debtors Prison (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment