Inside Julia Tutwiler Prison For Women

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By Catalina Trivino

A CBS and ABC Montgomery Investigation -- we find out first hand what one inmate says is going on inside Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Our report comes after an expanded investigation on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment.

We want to warn you that some of the content in this piece is explicit.
 
For years, media access to inmates in Alabama has been mostly prohibited; the same goes with over the phone. But one inmate says the abuse has gone so undereported, she didn't care about the risks that came with calling us through the prison phones. She wants you to know about the abuse she sees every day.

When Alabama News Network Reporter, Catalina Trivino, asked the inmate if it was okay to record her, she told us, "Oh yes, that's fine because I want y'all to play it and let society know that you're talking to me: an inmate at Julia Tutwiler Prison."

The inmate called from a phone at  Wetumpka's Tutwiler Prison for Women, a place that has faced major scrutiny during the past year. She warned us she may have to hang up at any minute.

"You know, they can take you anywhere," she said referring to some of the prison staff. "Or like when the inmates do go to sleep, he can go to the shower area."

She's been in and out of Tutwiler for about 10 years for several offenses, all of them nonviolent. And she wants to share what happens inside the prison's walls.

The inmate says the Department of Justice report, which was issued January 17, doesn't even scratch the surface, as far as the sexual abuse she has seen and experienced.

"Like if you're coming out of the shower, they're doing their count or walk through or something... they'll say, 'Mmm, you got a nice body. How old are you?' Or 'you got a nice set of t***.' Or 'you got a nice a**. You got nice legs'," Said the inmate.
    
Her call stems from a story Alabama News Network ran nearly three weeks ago, after the DOJ released a notice on its expanded investigation of allegations of sexual abuse at Tutwiler Prison. The "unprofessional sexualized language and harrassment" she described to us is in the report, as well as the "abusive sexual contact between staff and prisoners", "cross-gender viewing of inmates using showers and toilets",  and "strip shows condoned by the staff."

The report says the prison has failed to "protect women inmates from harm" and "violates the U.S. Constitution."

The inmate told us she heard about our story, as well as the DOJ's report. That's when we received the call at CBS 8...

"Are you afraid to report?" asked Catalina. "I don't want to get retaliated on, yes very much. We get retaliated on," Said the inmate.

Among other things she described, were inmates being beaten down. She even recalls a time when being moved to another unit,  an officer touched her body, along her legs to her chest.

The allegations are the reason that The Equal Justice Initiative attorney, Charlotte Morrison, is investigating dozens of sexual abuse case.

"[Prisoners I interviewed say they] had all their privileges taken away when they reported that an officer sexually abused them, and so I think there is still a lot of fear of retaliation that they will be either punished or bullied by other officers if they found out that they've reported problems in the prison," Said Morrison.

The DOJ report also reads the "women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety" -- which is why the inmate we spoke with told us she was willing to speak out.
    
"If I've ever felt unsafe, this is the most time now. I've never called and reported anything, but this is the most unsafest," Said the inmate.

Kim Thomas, Department of Corrections Prison Commisioner, was unavailable for an interview, but says that even before the Department of Justice ever expressed an interest in investigating Tutwiler, he directed an action plan be created to make changes at Tutwiler Prison to make it safer for the women.

Thomas says some of those positive reforms include more training related to Prison Rape Elimination Act and gender responsiveness, and a plan to equip Tutwiler with more than 300 security cameras.





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