The investigation into criminal sexual conduct by prison staff at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women came after Equal Justice Initiative filed a complaint on behalf of dozens of women. EJI attorneys spent several weeks interviewing 50 women at the facility and months after that collecting employment and court records related to the findings. EJI issued a report based on that investigation that found widespread sexual abuse and violence occurring at the prison.
The investigation was first launched in 2011 after the EJI was asked to represent a woman who was suing a male nurse at the facility who she said sexually assaulted her. After the investigating began, the organization received dozens of calls from other women incarcerated at the prison who said they were also assaulted.
Since 2009, six Tutwiler employees have been convicted for crimes related to sexual misconduct.
Equal Justice executive director Bryan Stevenson said women are routinely punished for reporting sexual abuse or trying to speak up about it. The group’s report claims that women who say something are often placed in segregation where they are deprived of contact with the outside world and do not have access to recreation, programs or work assignments.
Alabama Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas told The Associated Press that the department isn’t launching a separate investigation into the recent allegations because it already aggressively pursues any reports of sexual abuse. He said the Justice Department has not yet contacted the state about the claims. “We’ve been very, very proactive in hunting down and investigating thoroughly any complaint we’ve received,” Thomas said. “We’ve taken swift administrative action against any officers or employees who are found to have violated this. The first offense means dismissal.”
A 2007 Justice Department report identified Tutwiler as the women’s prison with the highest incidence of sexual assaults. It ranks 11th overall of all prisons in terms of sexual assaults. And these latest allegations show that prison officials have a long way to go to assure these women’s constitutional rights are not only respected, but enforced.