The U.S. Department of Justice started an inquiry into living conditions in Alabama prisons, the federal agency announced Thursday, amid a wave of prison strikes across the country.
The DOJ said that the federal investigation will look into whether male prisoners are detained in safe, secure and sanitary conditions and are adequately protected from physical and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners and prison authorities.
“Only the most egregious of conditions would prompt the federal government to open a major investigation into the state's prison system,” said SPLC president Richard Cohen.
William C. Holman Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison that houses Alabama's execution chamber, has been at the epicenter of the nationwide prison strike, launched Sept. 9 to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the bloody 1971 Attica prison uprising. The strike is being reported as the largest in U.S. history, though it is hard to confirm the numbers and full scope of the ongoing action organized by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a project of the International Workers of the World, which aims to unmask the horrific and inhumane prison conditions for inmates and what they say is the use of coercive prison "slave labor."
"We both share a common goal of wanting to improve the safety of the officers and inmates within the facilities," said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in response to the DOJ investigation.
Prisons across the U.S. are heavily overcrowded and Alabama is a shining example, with 23,692 prisoners detained in facilities originally designed to house only 13,318.
"In over 30 years of working in Alabama's prisons, I have not seen the kind of pervasive violence, abuse and frustration that we are seeing today … Officers are not safe, prisoners are not safe and the public is not being well served," Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative told the Associated Press.
Almost a million prisoners in the U.S. work either for free or for pennies an hour for a variety of industries. They also face harsh repercussions for refusing to work.