The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state last year, charging that its Department of Corrections did not provide adequate protections for inmates.,
Three Inmates Killed in Less Than a Week in Alabama Prisons
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state last year, charging that its Department of Corrections did not provide adequate protections for inmates.
One of the three inmates who were killed in Alabama prisons this month, Jody Potts, 58, died after an assault at Limestone Correctional Facility.Credit…Rollin Riggs for The New York Times
Three Alabama prison inmates died in less than a week this month from injuries that resulted from encounters with other inmates as the state faces continued scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department over its prison conditions.
The men died in separate episodes at different prisons in five days, Kristi Simpson, a spokeswoman with the Alabama Department of Corrections, said in a statement on Tuesday. The deaths were results of apparent inmate-on-inmate assaults, she said, and are being investigated by Department’s Law Enforcement Services Division.
Ms. Simpson said that the “exact causes of each of these deaths are all pending full autopsies.”
The Department of Corrections identified the three inmates who were killed as: Ian Rettig, 23, who died on May 4 and was an inmate at Fountain Correctional Facility, serving an 18-month sentence for multiple convictions; Jody Potts, 58, who died on May 6 and was an inmate at the Limestone Correctional Facility, serving a life sentence for murder; and Regial Ingram, 32, who died on May 8 and was an inmate at Bullock Correctional Facility, serving a 21-year sentence for second-degree robbery.
Mr. Rettig was scheduled to be released from prison the day after his death, according to The Associated Press.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions that the perpetrators have taken against these victims,” Ms. Simpson said in her statement. “Each of these incidents are being investigated thoroughly, and appropriate enforcement action — to include referring the perpetrators in question for prosecution — will be taken upon the completion of our investigative process.”
Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and its prison system has long been under the scrutiny of the Justice Department, which cited overcrowding and understaffing as major problems in a scathing report released in 2019. The report found that the state was “deliberately indifferent” to the risks inmates face and that “deplorable conditions within Alabama’s prisons lead to heightened tensions among prisoners.”
The Justice Department also found that prisoner-to-prisoner violence and sexual abuse was common within the system and that prisoner-to-prisoner violence was much higher “compared to other similar systems,” according to the report.
Another report, released in July 2020 by the Justice Department, found that correctional officers often used excessive force on inmates, infringing on their Eighth Amendment rights, which protect them from cruel and unusual punishment.
In December 2020, the Justice Department sued Alabama, charging that it violates inmates’ constitutional rights and “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.”
Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative, said in an interview on Tuesday that it was necessary for the federal government to step in when state prison agencies continue to have major issues and atrocities within their system.
“Oversight is a critical mechanism for improving conditions behind bars, and it’s also, you know, a mechanism that’s used less today than it has been before,” Ms. Bertram said.
Andrea Armstrong, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans whose expertise includes criminal justice and incarceration, said that violence accounted for a low percentage of deaths in prisons and jails, according to national data, making the recent deaths in Alabama “atypical.”
“By and large the leading causes of death are first, medical-related issues, particularly in prisons where you’re dealing with older populations on average,” said Professor Armstrong, who also cited suicide and drug overdose as other leading causes of death in prisons.
From 2001 to 2018, the annual mortality rate for inmates in Alabama state prisons who were killed by someone else was 10 inmates per 100,000 prisoners, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The death rate is higher with causes like heart disease, respiratory illness, cancer and liver disease.
Alabama currently has over 24,000 inmates in its Department of Corrections facilities, according to the department’s website.
Chris England, an Alabama state representative and Democrat, said the conditions within the state’s prisons were “horrendous,” and he has called for Jeff Dunn, commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections since 2015, to step down.
The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment about the call for him to step down.
“Our system is rotten to the core,” Mr. England said on Tuesday, discussing deaths within the state’s prison system.
Mr. England recently sponsored legislation that would require the Department of Corrections to send quarterly reports to the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee that would include details on officer retention and data on inmate deaths and causes.