Two officers on leave amid investigation into inmate’s death

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The Alabama prison system announced Monday that it is investigating the use of force by officers following the recent death of an inmate and that an investigation is ongoing into the death of another prisoner in what has already been a violent year inside state prisons.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said it is investigating the alleged use of force that resulted in the death of an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility. Fifty-five-year-old Michael Smith of Fairfield, died Dec. 5 after being removed from life support following a Nov. 30 incident at the prison.

The department released little information about the death, but said two officers were placed on mandatory leave afterward.

The department is also investigating the death of another inmate, 48-year-old Willie Leon Scott, who died Dec. 6. The department didn’t give specifics, but said his injuries were the result of an incident Dec. 4 at Holman Correctional Facility.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Monday that he is creating an internal task force to examine inmate-on-inmate violence as well as alleged excessive use of force by staff..The prison system said the action is being made because of recent deaths.

“My department is taking swift and substantive action to create safer working and living conditions, better ensure policy adherence, and deter unacceptable behavior by both inmates and … staff,” Dunn said in a statement.

The Alabamians for Fair Justice, a collection of advocacy groups and individuals, called the state’s reaction “too little too late.” The group said that a “culture of violence” is perpetuated by prison staff.

“Once again, the State of Alabama has proven itself grossly inadequate at operating safe, humane prisons. Alabama runs the worst, most violent prisons in the country,” the organization said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice in April issued scathing findings that condemned Alabama prisons for high rates of inmate homicides and violence. More than a dozen inmates have been killed in incidents in state prisons since Oct. 1, according to department statistics and news releases.

Ten inmates were killed in inmate-on-inmate homicides in a 10-month period between October 2018 and August 2019, according to statistics and news releases from the state prison system.

Dunn said last week that it is continuing to investigate the death of Steven Davis, who died after an October altercation with officers at Donaldson Correctional Facility. His mother, Sandy Ray, last week showed a photograph of her son’s battered face to a state criminal justice reform panel created by Gov. Kay Ivey. The department has said officers used force after Davis rushed out of his cell and tried to strike an officer with makeshift weapons.

Ray said her son was beaten beyond recognition and that she had to have a closed casket for his funeral.

Ray and other family members and advocates for state inmates attended the meeting last week to urge the state to improve conditions in state prisons. Dunn said Monday that he has directed the task force to assess reinforcement training programs and examine the possible use of body cameras by officers. The department said instructors will be giving refresher courses to officers.

Ivey’s administration is considering building three large regional prisons. Alabamians for Fair Justice said the solution is not building more prisons, but “locking up fewer Alabamians in these deadly warehouses.”

Republished with the Permission of the Associated Press.