A U.S. Justice Department investigation accuses Alabama officials of violating women's rights by fostering an environment of rampant sexual abuse at the state's Tutwiler Prison, where inmates “universally fear for their safety” and officers allegedly forced women to engage in sex acts just to obtain basic sanitary supplies, ABC News reports. The nearly 900 women incarcerated at the maximum-security prison live “in a toxic environment with repeated and open sexual behavior,” the Justice Department said in announcing its findings. Among alleged abuses: male officers openly watched women shower or use the toilet, staff helped organize a “strip show,” prisoners received a constant barrage of sexually offensive language, and prisoners who reported improper conduct were punished.
At least a third of the 99 employees at Tutwiler have had sex with prisoners, DOJ said. “We conclude that the state of Alabama violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler [Prison] from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff,” the Justice Department told Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. “Officials have been on notice for over eighteen years of the risks to women prisoners and, for over eighteen years, have chosen to ignore them,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels. In that time, inmates have been raped, sodomized and fondled by prison staff, yet officials “remain deliberately indifferent to the serious and significant need to protect women prisoners.”