Incarcerated people use TikTok videos to expose Alabama’s prison conditions - The Guardian

Last year 270 people in Alabama’s prisons died, the most of any calendar year on record. The deaths included 19 homicides. Those in prison, their family members and prison advocates have used TikTok to highlight the degrading conditions in Alabama’s prisons, even as the Department of Justice is preparing an unprecedented legal action against the state.

Severe understaffing, overcrowding, violence, drug use and a lack of adequate medical and mental healthcare and basic necessities have fueled a crisis in the state’s prisons for years. But the horrific state of Alabama’s prisons has begun to attract new attention as those affected have posted videos using the #prisontoks and #alabama hashtags to highlight the parlous state of affairs.

Bernard Jemison, currently incarcerated at Ventress correctional facility in Clayton, Alabama, has posted numerous videos on social media depicting fellow prisoners who say they’ve received little to no medical attention for chronic or debilitating medical issues. Individuals in the videos discuss ailments ranging from untreated psoriasis infections, broken ribs, untreated surgery complications and chronic untreated pain.

One of the prisoners in Jemison’s videos, William Davis, has a swollen face due to an infection and points out he is not provided with adequate colostomy bags for his chronic medical condition.

Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and sixth highest of all states in the US with its prison system operating at 168% capacity. About 19,000 men were in Alabama’s prison system as of January in facilities designed to house 11,000 people.

The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Alabama in 2020 over dangerous and overcrowding conditions, with a trial set to begin next year. The case was filed under the Trump administration – not known for its support of incarcerated people’s rights – and signed by the then US attorney general, William Barr, after lengthy attempts to negotiate a settlement and pre-empt the unprecedented intervention.

Alabama has attempted to build its way out of the problem – spending nearly $1bn on a new prison near Montgomery, Alabama, and pledging an additional $600m to build a second mega-prison by 2026.

The plans were criticized by the justice department in a 2019 letter, stating building new facilities alone will not solve Alabama’s prison issues.

Staffing shortages have exacerbated the crisis.

The state of Alabama closed down most hospitals for the mentally ill in 2013, while prisons and jails saw an influx of prisoners suffering from mental health issues after the cuts and closures.

Alabama has also been criticized for soaring rates of parole denials and harsh sentences that have fueled mass incarceration rates and prison overcrowding in the state.

The Alabama department of corrections did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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The Guardian

Locations: Alabama 

Organizations: United States Department of Justice (DOJ) 

People: Bernard Jemison William Davis William Barr Donald Trump 

Tags: Prison TikTok 

Type: Headlines