‘Tell me why my son is dead’: Groups ask for answers after prison deaths

‘Tell me why my son is dead’: Groups ask for answers after prison deaths

Advocacy groups are calling for answers in the deaths of three Alabama inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility within the last three weeks.

Alabamians for Fair Justice, a coalition of several organizations, also wants transparency in the investigation into the prisoners’ deaths. In making the demands, the group released a statement attributed to the mother of one of the prisoners.

“Tell Governor Ivey she will speak to me,” said Sandy Ray, mother of Steven Davis, a prisoner who died Saturday. “She will tell me what happened to my son. Her prison reform is not working. I had to do a closed casket because they beat my son so badly. Maybe she needs to let these hurt families run the prisons. She needs our input. They killed my baby. Tell me why my son is dead.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections is currently investigating three deaths that have occurred at Bessemer’s William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility since Sept. 26.

The first was the apparent suicide of 32-year-old Marco Dewayne Tolbert, who was discovered the evening of Sept. 26 hanging from a light fixture inside his cell after his cellmate alerted prison staff, according to ADOC. He was serving a life sentence for a 2011 second-degree assault conviction from Jefferson County.

On Saturday, Steven Edward Davis, 35, died following some kind of altercation with corrections officers that is also under investigation.

ADOC released this statement Monday about Davis’ death: “On the morning of October 4, two Donaldson correctional officers say inmate Davis rushed out of his cell brandishing one prison-made weapon in each hand and attempted to strike an officer. After repeated verbal commands and the use of standard methods to disarm the inmate, Davis refused to comply. At that time, correctional officers applied physical measures to diffuse the threat in order to remove the weapons from the scene and secure the inmate.”

According to Alabama Department of Corrections officials, 53-year-old Elvin Burnseed was found dead Monday afternoon at the prison in western Jefferson County. Burnseed was found lying unconscious in his dorm. The inmate was serving a life sentence out of Houston County for first-degree robbery. It wasn’t made clear whether foul play is suspected in Burnseed’s death.

Linda Mays with the ADOC said, “More information will be provided at the conclusion of the investigations.”

The deaths come months after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in April determined that Alabama’s men’s prisons violate the Constitution through overcrowded, understaffed conditions that foster a climate of sex, violence and death. Since then, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office has put forth a $900 million plan to build three men’s prisons. Ivey also created the Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, which includes state lawmakers and others, looking at issues related to prison reform.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson used the stories of 15 male prisoners who committed suicide over the course of a year in Alabama prisons in a 210-page ruling that found the state’s prison system fails to adequately prevent inmate suicides. Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to implement specific steps to address what he called “severe and systemic inadequacies.”

Alabamians for Fair Justice is a coalition of groups including the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice, Alabama Appleseed, Alabama Arise, Alabama CURE, the Alabama Justice Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, and Greater Birmingham Ministries, among others.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Kenneth Glasgow, founder and president of The Ordinary People Society, said the deaths are “disturbing, no matter what the circumstances.”

“Too many lives have been lost just since the U.S. Department of Justice’s report in April and it is imperative that lawmakers act to address this crisis,” Glasgow said. “These are human beings. Speaking as a formerly incarcerated person, I know how important it is that we be seen as people. We are not offenders, we are not convicts, or felons. We are people. This is about fair treatment and fair justice for all people.”

Glasgow, the half-brother to Rev. Al Sharpton, said the problems of Alabama’s prisons won’t be solved through new prisons but by criminal justice reform.

“We look forward to working with Alabama’s Legislature and Department of Corrections in ensuring Alabama’s prisons are a safe and transformative environment. While the investigations into these most recent deaths run their course, we hope the results will be completely transparent and provide some insight to help address the continuing crisis in Alabama’s prison system,” he said.

Published at Fri, 11 Oct 2019 21:56:00 +0000

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