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Unthinkable in the USA: Deadly Injustice in Alabama's Prisons
Misconduct and acts of violence within the Alabama Department of Corrections have once again resulted in the tragic death of an inmate housed in their facilities.
Daniel Williams, a 22-year-old inmate at Alabama's Staton Correctional Facility, faced a nightmare in his final days. He was kidnapped, raped, and brutally assaulted, showing just how bad the violence and oversight are in these prisons. His situation, sadly, isn't unique in Alabama's prison system, where abuse and neglect seem rampant. This has led the Department of Justice to sue the state of Alabama, pushing for urgent changes to protect prisoners like Daniel. It's a serious situation that needs fast action to stop more tragedies like this.
The tragedy that unfolded at Staton Correctional Facility in Alabama, often referred to as the “killing grounds” by inmates, is a shocking tale of violence and neglect, highlighting a severe crisis within the prison system. Daniel Williams, a young 22-year-old inmate, became the center of a particularly heart-wrenching incident. His story is not just one of prisoner-on-prisoner crime, but a horrifying ordeal that may speak to a deeper systemic failure.
Daniel was subjected to unimaginable brutality during his final days at the facility. He was reportedly kidnapped, raped, and “rented out” for days, enduring a relentless assault that surpassed physical violence. How could this have gone on for days without the prison’s knowledge? When he was eventually found unresponsive in his dorm on October 22, it was evident that he had suffered prolonged physical trauma, so severe that it left him brain-dead.
The initial response from the prison authorities only added to the family's anguish. Misled into believing that Daniel had succumbed to bad drugs while in the facility, his family was kept in the dark until October 25, when they were informed that he was hospitalized and in serious condition. The truth became clear upon seeing his body, that he had been beaten and bound. This incident was not an anomaly in Staton Correctional Facility, but rather a pervasive pattern of violence and neglect.
Compounding the tragedy is the bitter irony that Daniel was only days away from release.
Who Was Daniel Williams?
The lack of attention to Daniel Williams' case might be due to him being a white, poor, former drug addict. Often, stories like his don't get much media coverage or public interest, which is a sad reflection of how society sometimes overlooks individuals based on their background or past issues.
On October 15, shortly before his passing, Daniel Williams posted on his Facebook: "Hello everyone. Not much longer now, I'm asking for your prayers. I'll be coming home soon, better than before and without drugs. It's been a wild journey through three different prisons, but it's nearly done."
Daniel Williams' background isn't fully known, but it's clear he was loved by his family - his parents, fiancée, small children, and sister. His sister's Facebook post reflects the love and loss they feel.
Daniel was serving the last days of a 12-month sentence for second-degree theft. In Alabama, second-degree theft is defined as theft of property that exceeds $1,500 but is less than $2,500 in value. It can also apply to the theft of a controlled substance, regardless of its value, or when the property stolen is a firearm, a credit/debit card, or a vehicle plate. Second-degree theft is classified as a Class C felony in Alabama, which carries serious legal consequences, including potential prison time and fines. See Ala. Code § 13A-8-4
Although the details of Daniel’s crime are unknown, it is clear based on the statute that it was a nonviolent crime likely tied to his substance problem.
Systemic Abuse in Alabama Prisons
The series of incidents at Alabama prisons, particularly at Staton Correctional Facility, highlight significant issues of misconduct and violence. In the past two years, there have been at least 12 officers who have been arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for assaulting people in their custody at the Elmore/Staton/Draper prisons. Here are a few cases:
1. Sgt. Devlon Williams' Assault Conviction (August 2023): Former Correctional Sergeant Devlon Williams was convicted of assaulting a defenseless inmate at Staton Correctional Facility in Alabama. On March 8, 2018, he repeatedly punched, kicked, and hit the inmate with a baton, even though the inmate wasn’t resisting. Williams then tried to hide what he did by lying to investigators and writing a false report. He was found guilty of violating the inmate’s rights, falsifying records, and obstructing justice. Another officer, Larry Managan Jr., admitted in 2021 to lying about the incident.
2. Sgt. D’Marcus Sanders' Murder Charge (July 2023): Former Alabama Department of Corrections employee Sanders is charged with murder, along with inmates Fredrick Gooden and Stefranio Hampton, for the beating death of inmate Rubyn Murray. Sanders, a sergeant at Elmore Correctional Facility, resigned post-arrest. Sanders escorted Gooden and Hampton to Murray’s cell and allowed them to enter and attack Murray, resulting in severe injuries. Murray later died in a Montgomery hospital. The reasons behind the attack have not been detailed.
3. Officer Laneitria Hasberry's Arrest (October 2023): Laneitria Hasberry, a 29-year-old correctional officer at Staton Correctional Facility in Alabama, was arrested for smuggling 170 grams of marijuana into the prison and allegedly receiving $1,000 for it. She was charged with promoting prison contraband and using her position for personal gain. The drugs were discovered when an officer noticed Hasberry hiding a suspicious package. Just three days after her arrest, an inmate at Staton died from a suspected drug overdose.
A 2019 Department of Justice report alleged violations of inmates' civil rights. The U.S. Department of Justice told Alabama Governor Kay Ivey that the state’s prisons are violating prisoners’ rights by not protecting them from violence and sexual abuse. The DOJ’s investigation, which started after complaints from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), found widespread issues in Alabama prisons. This includes rampant prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse, unchecked contraband, and staff smuggling drugs. The DOJ published its findings in July 2020, citing “incident reports, medical records, autopsies, policies and regulations, mental health records, personnel files, staffing plans, shift rosters, duty post logs, investigative files, audio interviews, and employee discipline records” from 2015-2019 also found that prison deaths were often misreported. The Justice Department warned Alabama that it must fix these problems or face a federal lawsuit, outlining steps to address understaffing, overcrowding, and the rampant violence and abuse in its prisons.
Wendell Roberts, an inmate once housed in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), details what the atmosphere is like within the walls of prison:
“The only way I can describe is it’s hell on earth You’re either a wolf or sheep in here. The wolves run in packs and the sheep don’t have a chance.”
In a 2020 lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice is suing Alabama for not protecting prisoners’ rights in its violent prisons. This comes after a 2019 investigation revealed terrible conditions and violence. The DOJ says Alabama’s prisons aren’t safe and are breaking the law. Alabama’s Attorney General, Steve Marshall, disagrees with the lawsuit and is against federal control over state prisons.
If the lawsuit succeeds, the federal government might take over Alabama’s prisons, which happened in the 1970s. Governor Kay Ivey is planning to build new prisons but faces criticism that this won’t fix the root problems.
Prison reform advocates and affected families are supporting the lawsuit, seeing it as a step towards exposing and fixing the issues in Alabama’s prisons.
Daniel Williams' tragic story in an Alabama prison is a loud wake-up call, showing the desperate need for change in a system riddled with violence and neglect. With the DOJ suing Alabama for not keeping prisoners safe, there's a glimmer of hope. But it's a tough fight ahead, and building new prisons alone isn't enough. We need swift and decisive action now because lives are literally at stake. This kind of tragedy can't happen again.
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