It seems painfully ironic that the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, a prison named after an advocate for prison reform in the 19th century, to be one of the most notorious prisons for sexual abuse and neglect. Tutwiler was even featured as one of America’s 10 worst prisons in a Mother Jones series of articles. In May of 2012 the Equal Justice Initiative released their findings, which are so disgusting it’s outrageous. Women prisoners live in a constant state of fear, where officers regularly watch them bathe and go to the bathroom while making lewd comments, where they are sexually assaulted and raped. They are then punished when they report the assault by being put into ‘segregation’ where they lose visiting and telephone privileges and are denied access to any educational or work programs of which they may be a part of. Just last week the Justice department came to an agreement with the Alabama corrections department to implement reforms to protect the women incarcerated there. These women are still citizens of the United States and are entitled to their constitutional rights. Our prison system, which is already problematic to begin with, is nothing without justice, and justice is not applicable to only those that we want to punish but to all men and women alike.
The Justice department’s Civil Rights division found Tutwiler to be a “toxic environment with repeated and open sexual behavior.” The report also noted that the Alabama prison officials have been aware of sexual misconduct since 1995. So, for at least 20 years women have suffered in deplorable conditions at the Julia Tutwiler prison. These women are already paying for their crimes and to ask them to suffer any more than what their sentence entails is not justice. It’s seriously cruel.
Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights for the Justice Department, remarked that this toxic and threatening environment has been met by “a deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management, who have been aware of the conditions for many years and have failed to curb it.” In fact, some have encouraged it. One of the many deplorable actions taken by prison management and officials is the “staff facilitated strip show” where inmates were required to disrobe in front of guards. My guess is this was mandatory, and if you were to say no, there would be repercussions. Prisoners stated that they would hear “screaming and moaning and cries in the night” and if you were to object you would receive the same treatment. With the threat of rape or assault always looming in the prison, women were undoubtedly hesitant to report others assault or even their own.
The NY Times also noted that more than one-third of the prison’s employees have had intercourse with the inmates. Many of these instances would probably constitute rape, and if women did submit willingly it was reportedly for access to basic necessities like tampons and toilet paper. Sex was sometimes the only currency available to access these goods, goods which should rightfully be provided by the prison. Kelsey Stein of AL.com also remarked that “If other forms of sexual abuse and harassment are included in the total, that number nearly doubles, meaning well over half of the Tutwiler staff has been involved in some sort of misconduct.”
Although allegations have been made against a significant number of employers, four officers received an enormous amount of complaints:
one with 38 incidents, another with 27 and two others with 19 each. The report notes that no system is in place to track employees with excessive complaints against them, preventing Tutwiler from identifying the most serious offenders. Sergeants and officers, not identified by name, are accused of being sexual predators, watching women shower, exchanging sexually explicit letters with inmates and, in at least one case, even fathering a child with an inmate, according to the report.
These men are serial offenders. If they weren’t prison guards, these men would surely be incarcerated. 38 counts– I can only image how many women have been made to suffer at this one man’s hands. Will he ever spend a day in prison where he rightfully belongs? Not free to molest prisoners because none of the management or officials give a damn, but behind bars, in a cell?
Monica Washington, an inmate who is currently serving a 20 year sentence for armed robbery, was raped by a prison guard and gave birth to a daughter who is now living with her relatives. The guard, Rodney Arbuthnot only served 6 months after being convicted of custodial sexual misconduct. Another offender, Herman Boleware, served five days for third-degree assault. The rest of the accused were put on probation, given suspended sentences, or didn’t serve any jail time. FIVE DAYS? Or no time at all?
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative stated that these “crimes committed on the street would get someone 50 years in jail. The sentence for someone convicted of a rape is 10 to 99 years in prison.” The prison staff is there to protect and ensure the safety of its prisoners. How can we let those who abuse their power and those who do the exact opposite of what their job ethically and morally requires them to do to go unpunished? It does nothing to discourage continued sexual abuse, and it only says to these female prisoners that they are not worth the consideration.
It may be filled with convicts, but the most dangerous people in the Julia Tutwiler prison for women are the employees hired to protect them, those hired to ensure that their constitutional rights are not violated. Unfortunately, this is not only a problem within the prison system, but is indicative of how this ‘rape culture’ can infiltrate the institutions which we rely on to enforce the law and protect those within it. Over and over again, we see victims of sexual assault treated as if they are at fault, and those responsible given sympathetic portrayals. Unfortunately, the fact that these women are convicts only further complicates people’s perception of their rights. They’ve been convicted for whatever crime they’ve been accused of, and no one is denying that, but to imply that they deserve further punishment (and one so disgusting and hateful) is immoral, unethical, and basically means you’re misogynist POS.
The settlement reached last week requires that the prison install monitoring cameras, increase female staffing, thoroughly report sexual assault and rape accusations and rigorously track the prison staff at all times. After 20 years of neglect, I pray that the inmates of Tutwiler are finally safe from the guards who have been hired to protect them.