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.