April 7th 2020
In response to the COVID19 pandemic, the Alabama Department of Corrections is re-opening the solitary confinement wing of Draper Correctional Facility. At least 300 cots are being added to the dilapidated prison in order to house incarcerated people infected by the virus. This information was brought to us by an anonymous person incarcerated at Elmore C.C., who was told of the plan by a correctional officer. As usual, the ADOC has refused to confirm, deny, or give any comment on the situation.
Draper C.F., built in 1938, was condemned by the public health department and decommissioned in March 2018 due to structural and environmental concerns including severe black mold, open sewage running throughout the facility, and toxic fumes. This was described by the DOJ’s April 2019 report on the Alabama prison system. Since then, part of the facility has still been used for vocational and educational programming. Our inside correspondent explained his fear that “you will have inmates with a deadly respiratory disease living in toxic conditions with no medical care. So bottomline, that’s a deathzone”.
The condemned facility is part of a larger prison complex which includes Staton C.F. and Elmore C.C., and is just a few miles from the Frank Lee Youth Center work release program. Despite the steeply climbing rate of COVID19 in Alabama, housing transfers between these facilities are still taking place. This is extremely concerning because out of the already overcrowded facilities clustered around Draper C.F., only one of them (Staton) has an infirmary, which can only house a few people at a time. Based on the spread of COVID19 in other federal and state correctional systems, we know that it is only a matter of time before we see a new humanitarian disaster in Alabama’s prisons.
[Map by the author]
Moreover, Elmore county is severely medically underresourced. According to a recent study on Alabama’s medical infrastructure, Elmore is among counties with the lowest number of hospital beds per person. Elmore Community Hospital already has multiple patients with COVID19 and no intensive care units. This is not unique, as most prisons in the region are located in rural areas with minimal medical infrastructure.
[Graphic by Ramsey Archibald, edited by the author to highlight Elmore County]
A worker at Staton C.F. already tested positive on March 27th, and since then only 3 people at the facility have been tested. There is no solitary confinement block at Elmore or Staton, and the dorm layout makes it impossible for incarcerated people to physically distance. This suggests that there is a high likelihood of an outbreak there being covered up. Nonetheless, the prison administrations and the ADOC fail at providing even basic sanitation supplies, gloves, or masks to incarcerated people or staff. In fact, bleach is still considered contraband. “When it comes to guards, [Kay Ivey]’s throwing them to the wolves too, and then they’re taking it home to their families and communities”
“If you not on the end of a row, you sleeping next to 6 people within a 6 foot radius. How we gonna social distance?”
[Photo and quote from inside Elmore C.C. on April 6th 2020]
As our inside correspondent explained, “under these circumstances, the only viable option is mass release”, which several other states have already started carrying out through the CARES Act, compassionate release, and granting clemency. Despite pressure from the media, public health experts, and the Lt. Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey continues to fail at mitigating imminent and unnecessary deaths on a massive scale.
Over a year after threatening to take over the ADOC, the Department of Justice must follow through on its April 2019 report by superseding the jurisdiction of the ADOC, and issuing mass releases without electronic home monitoring. At the very least, Wiliam Barr must issue the same order he gave for federal facilities, to release elderly and immunocompromised people from Alabama state prisons, and meanwhile provide necessary supplies to others.
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