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Alabama governor Bentley calls troubled prison 'archaic'

| Tuesday, March 15, 2016, 7:33 p.m.

ATMORE, Ala. — Alabama faces more prison uprisings unless problems of overcrowding are addressed, Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday after he visited a maximum-security facility that has had two violent riots in the past several days.

Bentley described the William C. Holman Correctional Facility as “archaic” and said the outdated buildings are dangerous for inmates and the people who guard them.

“Part of the prison sentence is a punishment, we know that, but you've got to protect people,” Bentley said. “Their lives have to be protected. It not only has to be safe for the inmates; it certainly has to be safe for the guards and the wardens.”

Last month, Bentley announced an initiative to build four new prisons — three for men and one for women — to reduce overcrowding and improve safety. The men's facilities would be designed to house at least 3,500 inmates. Most of the existing facilities would be closed.

Republican Sen. Cameron Ward, who has spearheaded prison reform, said the unrest is “no fault at all” of the guards in the facilities.

“You cannot run a corrections system the way we run it, with the amount that we put into it, and expect to have true public safety,” Ward said.

In an area where average temperatures will reach the 90s during the summer, Holman is not air-conditioned.

Its long corridors make for poor sight lines, Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Tuesday, and there are no centralized locking mechanisms or modern surveillance systems for guards to keep an eye on the 991 inmates, which is nearly double what the facility is designed to hold.

On Friday, an officer trying to break up a fight between two inmates was stabbed. The prison's warden entered the area to try to contain the situation and was stabbed, and about 100 prisoners were able to seize control of a hallway outside a prison dormitory and start a fire, Dunn said. Prisoners likely used baby oil as an accelerant, Bentley said.

The warden and the officer who was trying to break up the fight are recovering from their injuries, Dunn said, and the inmates responsible for the assault are now separated from the general population.

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