Corrections officers have raped, beaten and harassed women in Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women for at least 18 years, says the U.S. Justice Department. More than a third of the employees have had sex with prisoners, which is sometimes the only currency for basics like toilet paper and tampons, the New York Times reports. Tutwiler, whose conditions are so bad that the federal government says they are most likely unconstitutional, is only one troubled prison in a state that has the second-highest number of inmates per capita in the nation.
“Yes, we need to rectify the crimes that happened at Tutwiler, but going forward it's a bigger problem than just Tutwiler,” said State Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We're dealing with a box of dynamite.” The solution,
Ward and others say, is not more prisons but changing sentencing guidelines that have filled prisons well beyond capacity. More than half the prisoners are locked up for drug and property crimes, a rate for nonviolent offenses among the nation’s highest. “No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we're doing this is just stupid,” Ward said. In many corners of Alabama, where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.