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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Gracie Freebush said on Tuesday, Jun 24 at 8:24 AM

Part of the issue is having mostly male staff members; at one time Tutwiler, many years ago, there were nothing but female correctional officers there. However, due to a lawsuit filed by a female officer who wanted to be able to go to a male institution, they opened all the institutions up for either male or female officers to be able to work at any institution. Maybe the DOC should look at going back to having just female staff at Tutwiler - they would still have to have male officers there on visitation days so any male visitors could be checked out before and after they visit, but there is a way that could be accomplished - male officers from other facilities could go there for visitation and be kept under the supervision of a sergeant or lieutenant while they were there. Tutwiler is not the only institution in the AL DOC where there are issues - However, in defense of the Correctional Officers in the AL DOC, many of them are hard working professionals and are as fed as we are.

Donna Holder said on Wednesday, Feb 12 at 5:06 PM

I just want to know why people in the streets would be arrested and charge for such behavior as this (whether it be toward a child or an elderly person) and other things that are going on in these prisons, i.e. not feeding people properly and making then live in an environment full of mold, not treating scabies outbreaks, improper health care(which is neglect) but no one is being held accountable for these crime? Come on people, this is so inhumane and so obvious that our government (all involved)is evil and corrupt.

Teraysah Barker said on Wednesday, Feb 12 at 8:58 AM

Having a majority FEMALE staff members would greatly reduce this type of abuse also.

Dennis C. Latham said on Wednesday, Feb 12 at 8:31 AM

This mess has been going on for over 20 years. It gets worse every day. Still no one is being fired and the commissioner seems to sleep well every night. Where is the swat team to rush in and rescue these hostages ??? WHERE ??? When is is right to do what is right ? THANK YOU WAKA for this article.

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