My name is London Breedlove and I am so excited for the opportunity I have been given to intern with Alabama Appleseed this summer! A Mississippi native, I was brought to Alabama on a tennis scholarship at the University of Montevallo. There I am a rising senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in prelaw. I immediately fell in love with the campus and my professors who created a safe academic atmosphere and close-knit community for my classmates and me. In my political science classes, I have learned the intricacies of Alabama’s state and local governments, as well as their Department of Corrections.

My interest in criminal justice reform sparked through my education where I learned the unconstitutionality of Alabama’s prisons as well as their significant recidivism rate due to lack of reentry programs. In my Public Policy class in particular, we were given policy briefs done by researchers at Alabama Appleseed that examined excessive fines and sentencing, illustrating the institutional injustices adopted by the State. Working closely with their materials allowed me to have a better understanding of the work that this nonprofit does as well as the meaningful connections they create with their clients. I knew from this class that I wanted to work with an organization like theirs, so when I was given the opportunity to be an intern here I immediately took it.

I am so grateful to intern at a place like Alabama Appleseed whose mission is to provide resources and care for those who have been neglected by our governmental systems. I hope to gain my law degree so that I can work in public service and be a voice for those whose rights have been stripped.

 


My name is Tayler Walton and I have the absolute privilege of working for Alabama Appleseed this summer as their legal intern. I am a rising 3L at Cumberland School of Law and I could not be more ecstatic to be working for an organization like Appleseed. I went into law school wanting to own my own Second Chance nonprofit and the week of my law school orientation– Mrs. Carla Crowder came to my school to talk about Alabama Appleseed and it felt like a sign that I was where I needed to be.

I come from a family of servitude and it has always been a passion of mine to serve in some way but it was not until freshman year of undergrad that I knew specifically what my passions were. I had taken a sociology course called Deviant Behavior and that class taught me about the disparities, gaps and injustice within our criminal justice system. I grew up very sheltered and was unaware of the struggles that Black and Brown people combat everyday. That one undergrad class is what ignited my fire to want to become a lawyer and be a part of the change I wanted to see. Not only this but representation matters. The people most affected by the system look like me and my family and the impact that representation can have for these men and women who have their spirits broken time and time again is unquantifiable.

My purpose in this life is to be a voice for the voiceless and it is people like Mrs. Crowder and organizations like Appleseed that have provided me an opportunity to do so. Working for Appleseed is a once in a lifetime opportunity. To be a part of an organization that challenges the status quo– magnifies injustice, as well as provides solutions to the injustice has been life changing. This organization is a family through and through and I can only hope to continue to be a part of it for years to come.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to work with Alabama Appleseed. I will continue to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can from this experience and hopefully in the near future I can create a sister organization to Appleseed that fights the system alongside it.

By Elaine Burdeshaw, Appleseed Policy Associate


This session certainly came with highs and lows; we experienced great wins and disappointing losses. At the start of the session Appleseed aimed to address the excessive sentences of individuals serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes that involved no physical injury, the lack of state funding for reentry housing, and the lack of oversight in our unconstitutional prisons. This year we saw significant steps forward in two of those areas.

THE HARD NEWS

The session started with unprecedented, broad support for our Second Chance bill, HB29, sponsored by Rep. Chris England, which would open a small window for older people serving life without parole for crimes involving no physical injury to have their sentences reviewed. Supporters emerged from across the political spectrum: faith communities, Alabama prison ministry volunteers, members of the judiciary, and former members of Congress. Even the author of the original Habitual Felony Offender Act himself saw the need to reevaluate certain life without parole sentences. But as things sometimes go, we were met with new opposition that caused it to fail in the House of Representatives, the chamber it passed out of only a year before. This was a difficult pill to swallow, and even more difficult when we had to make calls letting the men who would be affected and their families know they’d have to wait at least another year for relief. What we thought would be heartbreaking conversations were ones that in turn encouraged us to keep going; the men serving these sentences were still filled with excitement for what could be, despite our setback this session. So, for now we continue to represent individual clients facing these unfair sentences and press on with hope that we can get the Second Chance bill over the finish line soon.

THE GOOD NEWS

In the face of this disappointment and what was a hectic session all around, we saw great progress toward more oversight in our prisons and more funding for reentry housing in our state. A bill sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, chair of the Joint Prison Oversight Committee, directly addresses some needs expressed by families and loved ones of people who are incarcerated. SB322 creates a much needed constituent services unit put in place to respond to families and provides that one employee of the unit oversee its services and act as a liaison between the prison system and Joint Prison Oversight Committee. It also creates a position within the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts who will assist the Oversight Committee full-time, adding additional support to this important committee and hopefully expanding committee members’ capacity for overseeing the Department of Corrections.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds and Sen. Greg Albritton, provides $2.3 million dollars to the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles for housing and transitional spaces. The vast need for better and more expansive reentry services in our state is evident. Strengthening our communities and making them safer starts here. The money provided by HB479 puts us on the right track to getting there.

WHERE WE STAND

Yes, this was a difficult session, but here is what we know: everyday Alabamians– families of incarcerated people and people who care to pay attention and speak out about the state of our criminal justice system and prisons– created meaningful change when things felt almost impossible. The powerful voices of everyday Alabamians created this progress, and your voices will continue to make progress for this state in the future. A quote from Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, reminded me of something I know to be true:

“It’s not a pie in the sky hope, it’s not a preference for optimism over pessimism. It’s just an orientation of the spirit. I think we have to be willing to believe things we haven’t seen… And so, I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice. I think injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And so, hope is our requirement, it’s our superpower.”

Hope is our superpower, and we plan to keep using it. Thank you for your continued commitment to justice and for partnering with us to build a bolder and brighter Alabama. Appleseed’s work in courthouses, at the local level, and in communities across this state goes on long past when the lights are turned off at the Statehouse. And we have already begun planning for next year! See you then.

By Carla Crowder, Executive Director


Joe Raines walks free for the first time in 43 years, accompanied by Appleseed Staff Attorney Scott Fuqua, and Rick Hudson, a leader in Hunter Street Baptist Church’s prison ministry program and board member at Shepherd’s Fold Reentry Ministry, where Mr. Raines resides. (photo credit Bernard Troncale)

Joseph Raines spent 43 years in Alabama’s prison system for a robbery conviction. At age 69, he was still working in St. Clair prison’s vehicle restoration plant, lifting heavy pieces of metal for $1 an hour when Appleseed took on his case.

Like most of our clients, Mr. Raines was serving life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) and was supposed to die in prison. On February 9, he walked free, enjoyed bacon at the Burger King in Springville, and slept in a peaceful, nonchaotic place for the first time in four decades.  

Appleseed attorney Scott Fuqua served as lead attorney on the case, drafting the post-conviction petition that showed Mr. Raines’ LWOP sentence was excessive under current law; Jefferson County District Danny Carr did not oppose our efforts. There was no victim opposition either, as the conviction is so old the victim has passed away. Mr. Raines was resentenced to time-served by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Kechia Davis.

Joseph Raines with his attorneys, Staff Attorney Scott Fuqua and Executive Director Carla Crowder. (photo credit Bernard Troncale)

Appleseed lawyers were able to show that Mr. Raines demonstrated remarkable rehabilitation, despite his draconian sentence and having no reasonable hope for release. As one of his supervisors at St. Clair remarked: “I only saw politeness and a willingness to help others.”

It was shocking to him to be able to leave prison after so many years. “I was sitting in the car with Scott, and I said, ‘Am I really here?’” Mr. Raines said recalling those first moments as a free man. The surreal feeling continued as he walked into the bright morning lights of the Springville Burger King, “I just kept thinking, I am not here. This is not me,” he told me later. His other thought: “Do I deserve this?”

Working by age 8, homeless by 13

Because re-entry resources are threadbare in Alabama, Appleseed provides re-entry services to all of our legal clients, starting with ensuring they obtain the proper identification to move on with their lives. ID is critical for employment, housing, medical care, bank accounts and more.

But the only state-issued ID that Mr. Raines has is from the Alabama Department of Corrections identifying him as a recently released felon. He has never had a birth certificate, nor a social security card.

Joseph Raines on his release day. (photo credit Bernard Troncale)

We learned about his unusual background during early visits as we prepared his case and considered re-entry needs.

As Mr. Raines recalls, he was born in a trailer in Homestead, Florida. He was told his mother passed away due to an act of violence soon after his birth and his paternal grandmother took custody of him. Lacking a birth certificate, he did not attend school past kindergarten, and received little guidance, care, or support as a young child. He knew he was not wanted, but was too small to figure out where to go or how to take care of himself.

By the time he was 8-years old, he was wandering the dirt roads of the agricultural community where he lived and seeking out odd jobs. A farmer took pity on him and let him work in a produce-sorting barn. Sometimes Mr. Raines slept in the barn; none of his family checked on his welfare. That farmer also taught Mr. Raines how to drive, sending him on errands in a farm truck at a very young age. “He sort of took me under his wing,” Mr. Raines explained.

At 13, he hitchhiked to Miami, then found work as a flagman on a construction site in Daytona, Florida. He slept under a pier and kept his clothes in a bus station locker. There were jobs as a dishwasher, in construction, whatever he could find with his kindergarten education.

Throughout years of neglect, abuse, and just barely hanging on, Mr. Raines never once interacted with child welfare authorities, school officials, or any governmental agencies responsible for ensuring that children are not left to wander the streets with no education, resources, or care. His adventures took him from Virginia to California, and once involved reliance on a station wagon with no floorboards.

Joseph Raines with Appleseed clients (l to r) Robert Cheeks, Alonzo Hurth, John Coleman, Willie Ingram, Ronald McKeithen, and Lee Davis at Mr. Coleman’s 90th birthday party.

It was not until the inevitable occurred – hunger, need, and desperation led him to steal things, that law enforcement stepped in to punish and incarcerate him. It was in jail where he learned to read, with help from a pocket dictionary that a guard gave him.

In 1982, with a handful of out-of-state priors for minor offenses such as check forgery and theft, Mr. Raines was involved in a robbery at a Shop-A-Snack convenience store on Montclair Road in Birmingham. His gun never left his pants and he assured the clerk he was not going to hurt her. Mr. Raines was pulled over 6 days later in Flagstaff, Arizona and confessed to the robbery. He explained to the detective that he was trying to get back to his 3-year-old son in southern California and had robbed the gas station because he had no money for gas or means to earn it, according to testimony at his trial. Also at his trial, he acknowledged having at least three prior felonies, which resulted in the mandatory Life Without Parole sentence. He was 26.

For the next 43 years, a government that failed to provide intervention, care, or assistance to Mr. Raines as a neglected and homeless child found the means to imprison him for most of his life for crimes in which no one else was physically injured.  

“I’ve tried to treat people better than I was treated.”

Every piece of Joseph Raines’ history adds up to a man who should be bitter and angry. Or at least hostile and wary. But this is not who he is at all.  

Joseph Raines with Re-entry Coordinator Ronald McKeithen and client John Coleman.

“I’ve tried to treat people better than I was treated,” he told us during one of our first visits with him at St. Clair. While incarcerated, he earned a GED, mostly avoided trouble and had been living in the honor dorm and worked in Alabama Correctional Industries for nearly 7 years.

Mr. Raines is open and easy-going. He asks for very little. Of course, he’s been somewhat overwhelmed by various aspects of the modern world. This is a man who had never before sat in front of a computer until February, 2024. 

“To be honest, I’m loving every minute of it. I find a whole lot of stuff amazing. Walmart for one. I’ve never been in a store that huge.” Buying a mustache trimmer at Walmart made him happy. Walking out the door without having to tell anyone where he’s going makes him happy. “I enjoy the freedom of just being able to walk and throw a rock if I want to.” Currently, he resides at Shepherd’s Fold Reentry Ministry, but is looking forward to his own apartment.

One of his biggest challenges is that he wants to work and stay busy. But without a social security number, he cannot obtain employment, and without a birth certificate he cannot obtain a social security number.

Joseph Raines with Appleseed Re-entry Case Manager Kathleen Henderson.

Appleseed’s re-entry case manager Kathleen Henderson has worked miracles with birth certificates before, proving our client Larry Garrett was indeed Larry Garrett, even though his birth certificate from Talladega County failed to include his actual name. Mr. Garrett is now joyfully employed as driving tractor trailers all over America for Western Express. For now, Kathleen is working every angle: genealogy experts, medical records, school records from 1960s rural Florida, brainstorming with the nicest people at the Social Security office.

Meanwhile, Mr. Raines stays hopeful, and has begun sharing his story with students and other groups. He enjoys spending time with one of his old friends from St. Clair, our client John Coleman, who was released in February, 2023 and just turned 90. They were housed in the same dorm for years, back when both men had been condemned to die in prison.

Despite all of this, his troubling childhood, his desperate youth, being incarcerated for two-thirds of his life in one of the country’s worst prison systems, Mr. Raines is upbeat.

“I was talking to Larry,” he shared. “I told him as soon as I’m able to get my ID, I’m going to enroll in the CDL class. If I can have seven to eight good years of driving, I can retire in peace.”

He certainly deserves that.

By Eddie Burkhalter, Appleseed Researcher


It was five years ago today that the U.S. Department of Justice released a report detailing violations of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment for incarcerated men in Alabama prisons, and since then more than 1,000 people have died in state prison custody. 

The Alabama Legislature’s Joint Prison Oversight Committee meets today and is tasked with providing critical oversight of a department that for decades has been steeped in mismanagement, chaos, corruption, and violence. 

The DOJ issued a second report in July 2020 detailing widespread use of excessive force, including deadly force, by corrections officers against incarcerated people, and in December 2020 the DOJ sued the state and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). The trial, which will be closely watched across the nation, is set for November, but could be pushed back.

Throughout the last five years, state officials have provided major pay increases to prison guards, increased the ADOC’s budget by 48%, and signed a medical care contract for $1 billion. ADOC officers confiscate hundreds of weapons, even guns, along with enormous amounts of drugs on a regular basis. But nothing seems to stop the carnage. Alabama prisons have a death rate five times the national average, and 2023 saw record loss of life, with 325 incarcerated people dying in state prisons.   

Low prison staffing levels were flagged in that first DOJ report as being a catalyst of the violence, yet from December 2017 until Sept. 30, 2020, the state showed an increase of just 25 officers over nearly two years, which was less than 1.5 percent of a judge’s order to add 2,000 correctional officers by February 2022, and the staffing problem has only worsened. ADOC’s quarterly reports show total security staffing fell from 2,102 in December 2021 to 1,763 by September 2023, even after massive recruiting efforts, pay raises and incentives.

And many officers are part of the problem. Between 2018 and the end of 2023, ADOC fired 366 Corrections staff, and more quit before being terminated. During those years 134 ADOC officers and staff were charged with work-related crimes, Appleseed discovered through a records request, with charges ranging from promoting prison contraband to murder. 

In a recent case, ADOC Sgt. Demarcus Sanders in July 2023 was charged with murder in the death of Rubyn James Murray, 38, beaten to death at the hands of two other incarcerated men, directed to do so by Sanders, court records allege. Those two incarcerated men are also charged with murder. “The defendant confessed to the offense,” an ADOC investigator wrote of Sanders in a deposition. 

One of the last men to die in Alabama prisons was 39-year-old Samuel Ward, who was stabbed to death on March 27 by another incarcerated man at Limestone Correctional Facility. It was the fifth homicide at that prison since May 2021, and the second during the month of March. 

Gov Kay Ivey and supporters of her plan to build new prisons have said those buildings are the answer to Alabama’s deadly prison crisis, and while lawmakers have secured the money to build the first $1.08 billion prison – in part with $400 in federal COVID-relief funds, and potentially $100 million from state education funds, money for a second planned prison hasn’t been found. 

Immediately, after the 2019 report was released, Ivey began promising an “Alabama solution” to the problem. “Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety, making certain that this Alabama problem has an Alabama solution,” Ivey said at the time.

Asked what the most significant accomplishments to address the prison crisis to date have been, and about the lack of funding for the second planned prison, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office declined to provide a response, and instead sent portions of Ivey’s most recent state of the state speech. 

“The Alabama Department of Corrections certainly remains a key focus of our state’s public safety efforts. I will be frank: Running a corrections system is a hard job, and I know everyone has an opinion on how they can do it better. There is no one more capable to lead that effort here in Alabama than Commissioner John Hamm,” Ivey said in her February speech

“Prisons around the country and on every level – federal, state and local – are experiencing challenges. But we remain committed to doing everything in our power to make improvements where we can in our state system.

“We are moving forward in our mission to build two new facilities. At the same time, we are working to stop contraband coming into our existing facilities, and we are doubling down on our staff recruitment efforts and seeing record graduating classes of officers because of it,” Ivey’s speech reads. 

New buildings alone won’t solve the culture of violence and death inside Alabama’s prisons, which is exactly what the Department of Justice told the state in the 2019 report: “While new facilities might cure some of these physical plant issues, it is important to note that new facilities alone will not resolve the contributing factors to the overall unconstitutional condition of ADOC prisons, such as understaffing, culture, management deficiencies, corruption, policies, training, non-existent investigations, violence, illicit drugs, and sexual abuse.”

While no ADOC official attended the Legislature’s Joint Prison Oversight Committee meeting in December, family members of those who’ve died in state custody did, and spoke of the brutal ways in which their loved ones’ lives ended. 

“When you see your dad for the first time in 10 years and half of his face is almost gone because he was beaten, it does something to you,”17-year-old MaKayla Mount told lawmakers at that December meeting carrying her father’s urn with her in the State House that day. Christopher Mount was beaten and strangled to death inside a protective custody cell at Easterling Correctional Facility on Mother Day 2023. 

“My son was raped in February of this year and it took them over a month to get him moved,” one mother told the lawmakers at that meeting. 

Appleseed’s Executive Director, Carla Crowder, described for lawmakers at that December meeting how ADOC repeatedly failed to hold accountable the 38-year-old suspect in the kidnapping, rape and torture of 22-year-old Daniel Williams, who died at a hospital on Nov. 9. The suspect was involved in nine instances of sex assault, rape, and stabbing since 2017 in ADOC while incarcerated, yet there is no documentation that the department disciplined the man or placed him in segregation. 

“His classification summary showed a five-year clear record of institutional violence, which resulted in a perfect score of zero in risk assessment conducted in October, and a total score low enough for him to be placed in medium security in an open bay dorm. The psych associates signed off on this and the warden signed off on this,” Crowder said at the meeting. 

These kinds of attacks are precisely what DOJ identified five years ago: “The combination of ADOC’s overcrowding and understaffing results in prisons that are inadequately supervised, with inappropriate and unsafe housing designations, creating an environment rife with violence, extortion, drugs, and weapons. Prisoner-on-prisoner homicide and sexual abuse are common. Prisoners who are seriously injured or stabbed must find their way to security staff elsewhere in the facility or bang on the door of the dormitory to gain the attention of correctional officers. Prisoners have been tied up for days by other prisoners while unnoticed by security staff.” 

The report was signed by since-retired U.S. Attorneys Louis Franklin Sr., Jay Town and Richard Moore, all Trump appointees. 

Alabama prisons in January were at 168 percent capacity, and held 20,469 people in combined prisons designed for 12,115. In the five years since, the state’s prison population has remained the same. At the time of the release of the DOJ’s 2019 report, Alabama prisons held just one less incarcerated person than were being housed in January, 2024.

Turning memories into art with people who have lost loved ones to violence

By Leah Nelson, Research Director


The Memorial Chair event included people who had lost loved ones to violence and invited them to decorate folding chairs in their memory

Alabama Appleseed spent much of 2022 and 2023 traveling the state and talking with victims of violent crime. We focused on people from communities that are disproportionately affected by violence but whose voices are not usually centered in Alabama’s endless and endlessly political discussions about crime and punishment. We asked them about themselves and their experiences – and we asked them what they needed in the aftermath of violent victimization.

Pam Moser decorate a chair in honor of her son Brian Rigsby who died in October 2023 while incarcerated at Staton Correctional Facility

Since then, we’ve been finding ways to turn some of those needs into realities. On a policy level, we’ve supported the Crime Victims Compensation Commission (CVCC) in its request for a more sustainable form of funding to ensure quick responses to people in need of emergency assistance with things like funeral expenses for loved ones who died by homicide.

Then there’s the personal work. More than anything else, the survivors and victims we met with needed to talk. They needed professional counseling. They needed grief support groups. They asked us – especially our community navigator who facilitated focus groups and who lost a son to violence herself – to come back and keep the conversation going.

On Saturday, March 2, at St. Peter A.M.E. Church on the west side of Montgomery, we hosted the first of what we hope will be many healing art events.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, exhorted Americans who wanted to get involved in the political process. 

Decorating a chair for a loved one lost to violence

At Saturday’s Memorial Chair event, we invited people who have lost loved ones to violence to decorate folding chairs in memory of their loved ones. The group included people whose loved ones died by homicide in the free world and those who lost loved ones died preventable deaths in prison. After they created their usable works of art, they broke bread together around a table inside St Peter A.M.E. and offered each other words of comfort and encouragement. There were tears, but also smiles, embraces, and determination to support each other and do everything in their power to make this place we all live in safer and more compassionate.

Appleseed wants to see this project grow and evolve. If you would like to help us host a memorial chair event with people in your community who have lost loved ones to homicide and violence, please reach out to admin@alabamaappleseed.org.

By Eddie Burkhalter, Appleseed Researcher


Correctional Officers (from ADOC website)

Alabama’s prison staffing crisis has an outsized role in the violence and record number of deaths seen across the state’s prisons, most everyone agrees. New data obtained by Appleseed shows yet another reason prison staffing remains dangerously low: the large number of terminated prison employees – 366 Department of Corrections staff fired from January 2018 to November 2023.

The list includes only people fired from the department, not retirements or resignations, and was provided following a records request by Appleseed. Among the 366, at least 19 had been charged with work-related crimes, including contraband and assaulting incarcerated people with batons, for striking an incarcerated man “in the facial area with an open hand and push[ing] the inmate into a wall,” and for hitting another incarcerated man on the jaw with a closed fist “requiring surgery for his injury,” according to court records. 

Still another former prison worker was charged with assault for causing injury to an incarcerated man by “kicking and/or punching him” and two officers were arrested in May 2022 and charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of 27-year-old Jason Kirkland, who was found dead after he became stuck inside his cell’s small metal door used to pass food through and asphyxiated. 

An officer was arrested in May 2022 and charged with multiple crimes in connection with allegedly attempting to smuggle marijuana inside a frozen Poweraid bottle into Fountain Correctional Facility. Another officer was arrested in February 2020 after attempting to bring seven ounces of marijuana, three ounces of meth, two knives and other contraband into Fountain prison. That officer was convicted in federal court and was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison. 

But those 19 former ADOC employees charged with work-related crimes don’t come close to painting the entire picture of corruption and violence at the hands of ADOC employees; many former ADOC officers and staff quit before they’re fired, as Appleseed’s review of court records showed. Records for a former officer charged with assault for allegedly beating a man with a baton at Donaldson Correctional Facility in 2021 showed that two other former officers were also charged with assault in that incident, but those two officers weren’t listed by ADOC as having been fired during that time. Additionally, challenges with securing evidence and witnesses for incidents that occur in a correctional setting result in corrupt staff getting quietly pushed out the door rather than criminally prosecuted.

Equal Justice Initiative notes that, “since 2019, EJI has identified at least 89 ADOC employees who have been criminally charged or administratively sanctioned for misconduct within Alabama prisons. In 30 of these cases, the offending officers were supervisors.”

In one case, a lieutenant with 20 years experience attacked Victor Russo, a 60-year-old incarcerated man, who later died.  Mohammad Jenkins, who was a shift commander at Donaldson Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to using excessive force on Russo, then lying afterwards to cover up his abuse, according to the United States Department of Justice. “Specifically, on Feb. 16, 2022, Jenkins willfully deprived inmate V.R. of his right to be free from excessive force by kicking him, hitting him, spraying him with chemical spray, striking him with a can of chemical spray and striking him with a shoe, while V.R. was restrained inside of a holding cell and not posing a threat,” the DOJ stated. 

ADOC’s staffing problems, which have been a driver of the violence and death inside Alabama’s prisons, have plagued ADOC for decades, and recent court orders to improve have gone unanswered. From December 2017 until Sept. 30, 2020, the state showed an increase of just 25 officers over nearly two years, which was less than 1.5 percent of a judge’s order to add 2,000 correctional officers by February 2022, and the staffing problem has only worsened. ADOC’s quarterly reports show total security staffing fell from 2,102 in December 2021 to 1,763 by September 2023, even after massive recruiting efforts, pay raises and incentives. 

Violence could lead to early releases

Despite such a significant number of terminations, the assaultive and criminal behavior by ADOC officers keeps occurring. Now, violence against incarcerated people in Alabama is leading lawyers to request early release based on the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) inability to keep people in its custody safe.

This month, a grand jury indicted Limestone Correctional officers Samuel Dial and Jesse Cobb with felony assault for what court records allege is the beating of a 74-year-old incarcerated man in the head with a “broom handle.” Less than two weeks later, the man’s attorney on Feb. 21 filed a motion asking the court to reconsider releasing his client early because of the assault. Hospital records attached to the filing show the man suffered an intracranial hemorrhage and an abrasion to his left arm. 

The two officers remained employed by ADOC as of Friday were working at “non-contact posts” pending the outcome of ADOC’s criminal investigation, the department told Appleseed.

Despite signs of repeated, unlawful behavior by one man long before this episode, he remained a law enforcement officer at the ADOC. That officer,  Jesse Cobb, has been arrested four times since 2013, charged twice with driving under the influence, once for leaving the scene of an accident and twice for public intoxication. 

The earliest of Cobb’s DUI charges was dismissed for reasons court records do not make clear. Cobb in August 2014 pleaded guilty to a separate DUI charge in which court records state he was driving his motorcycle drunk and told the arresting officer “I work for the department of corrections.” The arresting officer in his notes said that Cobb was “using his job to establish dominance.” Cobb received a 180 day suspended jail sentence and was ordered to attend DUI school. The 2014 was later appealed and the charge dropped by the City of Athens, court records show. 

Cobb in July 2018 pleaded guilty to public intoxication and received a $50 fine plus court costs, and he was again arrested in January 2022 and charged with leaving the scene of an accident, public intoxication and failure to report an accident. Court records state he crashed into a guardrail, left the scene and the next day met with a state trooper and said he left the scene “because he was drunk.” Cobb pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and to public intoxication and received a one year suspended jail sentence and two years unsupervised probation. 

“You’re just making your problem bigger, in a new building.”

Michele Deitch, director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the University of Texas, told Appleseed that the staffing problem itself can result in officers breaking the law. 

“In a low staffed environment, officers are more likely to want to make deals with incarcerated people to try to keep the peace there. So it’s like, Oh, I’ll bring you in some contraband,” Deitch said. “And then there’s also the fact that low staffing allows more bad things to happen inside: Not enough people to notice that staff are bringing in contraband.” 

Appleseed regularly receives videos from inside prisons showing open drug use, assaults, injured and dying people and with no officers in sight. 

ADOC did raise pay for correctional officers and trainees last year, but Deitch said it’s a mistake to think that it’s solely a salary issue. “Counterintuitively it’s better to raise the standards for what it takes to be an officer, raise the educational level, raise the age, raise what kind of things you’re looking for,” Deitch said. “Because then it makes the job more appealing to the kind of people you actually would want to have working there.”

The most important change ADOC could make to improve hiring, she said, is to improve prison conditions, and proponents of Alabama’s new under-construction $1.08 billion prison say that’s what’s needed to fix the state’s deadly prison crisis, but Deitch cautioned about placing all bets on that new prison building. 

“Building a new building doesn’t do anything about the culture. This is a system that has a very dysfunctional culture. It’s a culture that supports violence. It’s a culture that supports the bringing in of contraband. Breaking of rules. All sorts of violations, and unless you change that culture, the new building isn’t going to do anything,” Deitch said. “You’re just making your problem bigger, in a new building.”

by Elaine Burdeshaw, Policy Associate


It’s no secret that Alabama is facing serious problems in our prisons and criminal justice system. In 2023 alone, 325 people died in Alabama Department of Corrections custody– making our prison mortality rate the highest in the nation and five times the national average. We face outdated laws and excessive sentencing that have put older people behind bars for far too long; creating exorbitant medical costs that we as taxpayers pay for, even though this population is the least likely to reoffend and the most expensive to incarcerate. We spend zero dollars on reentry, despite the fact that thousands of people leave correctional custody every year with a few dollars, a bus ticket and no support. All of that, and we’re set to spend over a billion dollars on a new prison that won’t solve all our problems. 

And yet, despite all the fires, there are people working to put them out, and every day Alabamians who care to be a part of tackling these things head on. At Appleseed, part of our job, yes, is to point out where the problems are, but our most important role is to help come up with solutions to those problems. This session Appleseed is bringing three legislative proposals that we believe are effective and viable solutions to addressing the prison crisis and improving public safety.

The first is our Second Chance Bill, HB29, which would give judges the authority to review the old cases of individuals sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes where no one was physically injured. 

There are over 200 people in Alabama who have been sentenced to die in prison for crimes where no one was physically injured under the state’s Habitual Felony Offender Act. Sentenced in the three-strikes laws era of the 80s and 90s, most of these people are over the age of 60 and will have served at least 24 years by the time the bill were to pass. They’re also the most expensive to incarcerate and the least likely to reoffend. These individuals have served decades in Alabama’s dangerous prisons and still have shown profound rehabilitation. Simply put, these sentences are no longer fair or necessary, and they deserve another chance and the opportunity to live the rest of their lives free. For more information about our Second Chance bill and work, please visit secondchancealabama.org

The second is our Prison Oversight Bill, which would create an independent ombuds office within the Executive Branch to monitor conditions inside facilities, create necessary transparency for the public, Governor, and legislators, and work to improve the safety and well-being of incarcerated people and Corrections staff.

Since the Department of Justice declared all Alabama prisons for men unconstitutional and sued the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2020, the department has failed to improve and maintain livable, humane conditions within those facilities. In many ways, the conditions have only gotten worse. Incarcerated people are dying at tremendous rates, staffing has hardly improved, drugs and contraband are rampant, and violence continues to keep everyone inside unsafe. It’s past time to create oversight for the ADOC, and the Prison Oversight Bill will help bring what has been absent within the department for a long time– transparency. 

Our third and final priority is state funding for reentry housing. $500k in the State Bureau of Pardons and Paroles budget would provide around 50 people 6-12 months of housing in a Jefferson County reentry pilot program. 

Currently the state of Alabama provides zero dollars for reentry, even though thousands of people are released from correctional custody every year. We know from our own reentry work with clients and from research that when someone has a stable place to eat, sleep, shower, and receive mail everything else becomes a whole lot easier. We also know from the experiences of other states that  provide state funding for reentry services that recidivism and rates of reoffense decrease, and things like employment increase. Our hope is that this pilot program will show the positive impact of stable housing in reentry and the state will begin investing more resources toward that end.

We’ve seen in the last two years what can happen when everyday Alabamians, like us and like you, come together to create positive change. In 2022, we passed HB95, which created a 180 day grace period for people leaving correctional custody before they have to begin paying on accrued fines and fees. In 2023, we passed SB154, which curbed the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for debt-based reasons. And this year with your help and support, we can do it again. See you at the Statehouse!

by Eddie Burkhalter, Researcher


St. Clair Correctional Facility (photo by Bernard Troncale)

Alabama prisons in 2023 saw record high deaths for a second straight year, a grim reminder that the Alabama Department of Corrections is incapable of protecting incarcerated people from drugs, violence and death.

Last year, 325 people died in Alabama prisons, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed for Appleseed. This total means more than 1,000 people have died in state prison custody since 2019 when Alabama government officials were put on notice of conditions so dangerous and deadly that the state was violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Altogether, there were 1,045 deaths in Alabama prisons from the April 2019 release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report detailing the horrific violence in the state’s prisons through the end of last year, according to ADOC’s statistical reports and data Appleseed gathered through records requests.

ADOC doesn’t release timely data on prison deaths, and names aren’t released in department reports, leaving it up to journalists and others to gather those names and seek confirmation. The department’s quarterly reports publish data that reflects what was happening in prisons three months prior, so it’s difficult to gauge the current state of violence and death inside Alabama prisons. Appleseed obtained the names and dates of deaths last year through a records request.

The Public Oversight Committee held a public hearing on December 13, 2023 in Montgomery (photo by Alexander Willis for Alabama Daily News).

It can take many weeks and even months for ADOC to close out an investigation into an in-custody death, due in part to the time it takes the state’s lab to complete toxicology reports, but in ADOC’s quarterly reports the department notes that 127 death investigations had been completed for deaths that occurred in 2023. Among those, 47 were determined to be caused by “accidental/overdose,” four were homicides, five were suicides, 72 were “natural” deaths and two were “undetermined’ leaving 198 yet to have an official cause of death.

Families of victims of custodial violence and abuse increasingly are speaking up. Last month, dozens of grieving family members attended the Joint Prison Oversight Committee at the Alabama Statehouse. Other families have emailed lawmakers with chilling photos and videos of the chaotic, degrading, and deadly conditions across the prison system. The 2024 legislative session is less than two weeks away and the desperation of these families promises to push Alabama’s prison crisis into the spotlight yet again.

Hundreds of deaths, little communication with grieving loved ones

ADOC also has a history of misclassifying deaths, as the U.S. Department of Justice noted in a 2019 report. “There are numerous instances where ADOC incident reports classified deaths as due to ‘natural’ causes when, in actuality, the deaths were likely caused by prisoner -on- prisoner violence,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s findings in the report.

Christopher Latham (family photo)

For example, the death certificate for Christopher Latham, 40, who died on Oct. 10 following an assault by another incarcerated man at Ventress Correctional Facility on Oct. 4, lists the manner of death as an “Accident” despite also noting that the injury was the result of a “prison fight.” The death certificate, first obtained by ABC 33/40’s Cynthia Gould, lists the immediate cause of death as respiratory failure and the underlying cause as “Intracranial Trauma.” Latham had previously been struck in the head with a weight at Staton Correctional Facility prior to being taken to Ventress prison, where the second assault occurred, according to statements from his family and ADOC.

Appleseed on Thursday contacted the office of the physician who certified Latham’s death at Southeast Health Medical Center in Dothan to question how injuries from a prison fight could result in the death certificate listing the manner of death as “Accidental” instead of a homicide. The physician’s nurse confirmed that Latham had been seen by the doctor, but the physician did not return Appleseed’s message as of Monday morning.

Among the names of those who died last year are 39-year-old Rubyn Murray, who was set to be released in 2025. Former ADOC sergeant D’Marcus Sanders was charged with murder in connection with the July 2023 beating death of Mr. Murray at Elmore Correctional Facility. Mr. Murray had served 19 years of a 20 year sentence for a 2004 robbery. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole denied parole for Mr. Murray in February of 2021. His conviction stemmed from a robbery of a Montgomery convenience store in which $125 was stolen; no one was injured, according to court records.

Mr. Murray was involved in an altercation with another officer earlier on July 26, which resulted in minor injuries on both the officer and Mr. Murray, according to an ADOC statement. Murray was then taken to a “back gate holding area” and was to be taken to Staton Correctional Facility for medical assessment and treatment.

“Before the transport could occur and in violation of ADOC policy, two other inmates gained access to the holding area,” the statement reads. “Inmate Murray was found unresponsive and was transported to SHCU and then to an area hospital for emergency treatment. Medical staff was unable to resuscitate inmate Murray and he was pronounced deceased by the attending physician.”

Sgt. Sanders and two incarcerated men, Fredrick Gooden and Stefranio Hampton, were charged with Murder. According to court records, Sgt. Sanders unlocked Mr. Murray’s cell door and allowed those two other incarcerated men to enter and beat Mr. Murray, causing serious injuries that later resulted in his death. An Elmore County District judge has approved an affidavit of hardship filed on behalf of Sgt. Sanders and declared him indigent, meaning Alabama taxpayers will pay the cost to defend him against the murder charge.

Brian Rigsby and his sister Elizabeth (photo courtesy of Pamela Moser)

Brian Rigsby, 46, died on Oct. 4, 2023, at the Staton Correctional Facility infirmary after being beaten by other incarcerated men in August 2023 at Bullock Correctional Facility, causing numerous stab wounds, fractured ribs, a facial fracture and two small skull fractures. Mr. Rigbsy also had end-stage liver failure in the days leading up to his death, his mother, Pamela Moser, told Appleseed.

Mr. Rigsby had been turned down for parole by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles in July 2023. Ms. Moser was one of the families who pleaded with legislators to address the inhumanity in the prisons at the oversight committee meeting. “When one breaks the law, they lose their freedom, not their rights as a human being. The way my son’s end of life was handled was not humane, kind, or caring. For him and

MaKayla Mount holds an urn containing her father Christopher Mount’s ashes at the Prison Overrsight Committee’s public hearing (photo by Eddie Burkhalter)

his family, I can only hope and pray for change,” she told the six lawmakers in attendance.

Another 2023 victim was Christopher Mount, 44. He was beaten and strangled to death on Mother’s Day 2023 after being placed

in a suicide cell with another man at Easterling Correctional Facility.

Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) investigators believe the other man, William Smith, killed Mr. Mount in that cell. Mr. Smith, 48, was incarcerated after being convicted of choking his girlfriend to death in 2017. Mr. Mount was choked to death as well, according to his death certificate, which lists his cause of death as asphyxiation. “My daughter has nightmares and wakes up screaming and crying because all she sees is her dad being beaten and strangled and screaming for help,” Christy Martin, mother to Mr. Mount’s 17-year-old daughter, MaKayla, told Appleseed. “We were supposed to have him home in our arms and not in an urn.”

Easterling prison was at 188 percent capacity the month that Mr. Mount was killed.

Alabama’s prison mortality rate is five times the national average

The November 2023 death of 22-year-old Daniel Williams following what other incarcerated men say was two to three days of beatings and sexual assaults received international news coverage. Mr. Williams was serving a 12-month sentence and was weeks away from his release when he died.

The suspect in Mr. Williams’ death had a decade-long history of assaulting and raping other incarcerated men in several prisons, Appleseed’s review of court records revealed.

Those documents show nine reports of the suspect in Mr. Williams’ death sexually assaulting or harassing other incarcerated men over the last five years, and those records also show that ADOC didn’t take disciplinary measures against the man that could have increased his classification status and removed him from areas inside prisons in which he could further harm others.

In October 2023, ADOC gave the suspect a perfect scores in the category of “History of Institutional Violence” despite clear records of the previous assaults and rapes. As of Jan. 9 the suspect had not been charged in connection with Mr. Williams’ death, according to court records.

The federal government in December 2020, sued the state and the Department of Corrections alleging that the state “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.” That lawsuit is scheduled for trial in November, 2024.

The death rate in Alabama prisons has climbed to five times the national average. Alabama’s prisoner mortality rate is 1,370 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 330 deaths per 100,000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Ivey Administration’s response has been to begin construction of a $1.08 billion prison expected to house 4,000 people when it opens in 2026. ADOC officials cite perennially low staff and inability to retain and recruit officers as the cause of much of the violence, but have not released a realistic plan as to how they plan to staff the largest prison ever built in Alabama.

The following is the document provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections listing deaths in 2023:

By Eddie Burkhalter, Appleseed Researcher


Klifton Adam Bond (source Facebook)

Just 22 days after friends of Klifton Adam Bond’s family spoke to the Legislative Joint Prison Oversight Committee about Bond’s injuries following a severe beating, Mr. Bond was found dead in his cell at St. Clair Correctional Facility. 

For lawmakers who listened to those pleas for help, the death of this 38-year-old man should be yet another call to push for meaningful oversight of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), which continues to prove itself incapable of protecting the incarcerated from violence and death. 

Mr. Bond was attacked on Nov. 6, 2023 at Donaldson Correctional Facility and remained in a hospital intensive care unit for 12 days, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of his mother, as reported by Alabama Daily News. Doctors performed brain surgery on Mr. Bond and told the family he’d require extensive rehabilitation, a friend of the family told the prison oversight committee. Instead, Mr. Bond was moved to St. Clair prison on Jan. 3, 2024 and was found unresponsive in his cell the next day, according to ADOC. 

It’s unclear how he died and Appleseed is working to learn more, but in social media posts the family makes clear they believe it was a homicide. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Bond had been fearful for his life in the days leading up to his death, and that several officers wanted to retaliate against Mr. Bond for his effort to get other incarcerated people medical care. 

Barbara Ann Turner, a friend of Mr. Bond’s family, spoke to lawmakers in December at the Joint Prison Oversight Committee meeting, and pleaded for action. The committee’s annual public hearing is statutorily mandated, and while all six lawmakers on the committee attended, there was no one from the Department of Corrections present. “He was beaten with a pipe, he was stabbed all over his body,” Ms. Turner told the lawmakers, noting that it took intervention from a state senator to get confirmation from the prison’s warden that Bond had been assaulted and was being treated at a hospital. 

“It’s never been worse.”

Just hours after Mr. Bond’s January 4th death, members of the Alabama Joint Contract Review Committee met in Montgomery and heard a request from an ADOC employee to approve a contract for court-ordered oversight of the department. That oversight is connected to a long-running lawsuit over mental health care in prisons, and the reports drafted by the external monitors aren’t currently made public. 

State Representative Chris England

Representative Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, a member of the committee, told Mandy Speirs, assistant general counsel for the Alabama Department of Corrections, of the hundreds of emails he regularly receives from families of incarcerated people describing the violence and death, and pleading for help. “We actually had a meeting here in this room last month of the Prison Oversight Committee, where some of the same people who were sending the emails came to talk to us about some of the horrors they’re experiencing in our prison system,” Rep. England said. “And unfortunately, no one from the Department of Corrections showed up.” 

Rep. England asked if the reports created by those external monitors could be released to the committee, to which Ms. Speirs responded that she would determine whether that was possible. He also questioned whether the committee should create additional oversight of ADOC which could give an “unbiased report.” 

“Not only what’s going on inside the facilities but what the Department of Corrections is doing to address them, but something has got to give because it’s really getting out of control,” Rep. England said. 

“I will say, and I understand, but to make a small defense is that there are two sides to every story and the DOC…for every email that you have, I’m sure we have information for that,” Ms. Speirs said. 

Appleseed reached out to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office with questions about executive branch responses to the crisis, but has received no response. While select lawmakers have been hearing from impacted families and speaking out about the problems, there have been no public statements or explanation for the increasingly deadly prison conditions from the Administration in charge of running prisons. “The Governor’s Office is pretending that nothing is wrong,” Rep. England told Appleseed. “The Executive Branch is in control and responsible for the day to day operations of the prison system and it’s never been worse.” 

It remains unclear what the “other side” is to the frequent cases of individuals being beaten to death while in custody of the state’s largest law enforcement agency, including instances where correctional officers are involved. The story of the beating death of Rubyn Murray, 39, who had served 19 years of a 20-year sentence for robbery, is one of a correctional officer allegedly using his authority to help end the life of a man he was paid to keep alive. D’Marcus Sanders, then an ADOC sergeant at Elmore Correctional Facility, is charged with murder in connection with Mr. Murray’s death in July. According to court records, Mr. Sanders unlocked Mr. Murray’s cell door and allowed two other incarcerated men to enter and beat Mr. Murray, causing serious injuries that later resulted in his death. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole denied parole for Mr. Murray in February of 2021. His conviction stemmed from a robbery of a Montgomery convenience store in which $125 was stolen; no one was injured, according to court records.

Alabama taxpayers will pay the cost to defend Mr. Sanders in court after an Elmore County District judge approved an affidavit of hardship filed on behalf of Mr. Sanders and declared the former correctional officer indigent. 

State officials have been provided detailed accounts of unconstitutionally dangerous prison conditions for the last five years, yet the violence only increases. The federal government in December 2020, sued the state and the Department of Corrections alleging that the state “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.” That lawsuit is scheduled for trial in November, 2024. 

“The most brutal meeting I’ve been in”

State Senator Dan Roberts

Senator Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, is chair of the Legislature’s Contract Review Committee and a member of the Joint Prison Oversight Committee. Sen. Roberts spoke to Ms. Speirs during the Contract Review meeting. “That was the most brutal meeting that I’ve been in since I’ve been elected,” Sen. Roberts said of the Dec. 13, 2023, Prison Oversight meeting, where fourteen Alabama families and advocates spoke to lawmakers about Alabama’s broken prison system. 

Among them was 17-year-old MaKayla Mount, whose father, Christopher Mount, was brutally beaten and strangled to death inside a suicide cell at Easterling Correctional Facility after being placed there with another man. “When you see your dad for the first time in 10 years and half of his face is almost gone because he was beaten, it does something to you,” Ms. Mount told committee members. 

MaKayla Mount holds an urn containing her father’s ashes at the Prison Oversight Committee’s public hearing.

Appleseed is awaiting ADOC’s official count of prison deaths during 2023, but the number is expected to set a record for a second straight year. ADOC opened investigations into 247 deaths from Jan. 1 until Sept. 30, the last date for which the department has made that data available in ADOC’s quarterly reports. 

If prison deaths during the last three months of the year remained on pace, Alabama prisons would have seen more deaths last year than ever. Alabama prisons saw a 34 percent increase in deaths between 2021 and 2022, according to the federal data, although the U.S. Department of Justice’s 252 deaths in 2022 is less than what Appleseed and The Montgomery Advertiser confirmed through the Alabama Department of Corrections to be 270 deaths that year, which would put the increase at 43 percent. 

The death rate in Alabama prisons has climbed to five times the national average. Alabama’s prisoner mortality rate is 1,370 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 330 deaths per 100,000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.