Construction yet to begin on Tutwiler prison camera system
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 17, 2013 | 4971 views |  0 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An undated file photo of the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Construction has yet to begin on a system of security cameras for Tutwiler Prison for Women, the state facility that was rocked by sexual abuse allegations last year, but a prison official says the project is not behind schedule. (Photo by Ken Elkins / The Anniston Star)
An undated file photo of the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Construction has yet to begin on a system of security cameras for Tutwiler Prison for Women, the state facility that was rocked by sexual abuse allegations last year, but a prison official says the project is not behind schedule. (Photo by Ken Elkins / The Anniston Star)
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MONTGOMERY — Construction has yet to begin on a system of security cameras for Tutwiler Prison for Women, the state facility that was rocked by sexual abuse allegations last year, but a prison official says the project is not behind schedule.

"It's in the architectural design phase," said Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Prison officials and lawmakers have discussed the need for cameras at Tutwiler, the state's only maximum-security women's prison, since January. The Department of Corrections proposed $3 million in improvements to the prison in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse of inmates by employees at the Wetumpka prison.

Chief among those improvements was installation of a system of security cameras. The Alabama Legislature approved a budget increase of nearly $17 million for the Department of Corrections in the budget it approved in April, and lawmakers cited the Tutwiler camera project as one of the reasons for the increase.

Eight months later, the physical work of installing the cameras has not yet begun. Corbett said construction will begin next year and will be completed by the end of 2014.

Asked why it took so long to begin installation, Corbett cited the problems of wiring a system of cameras in a prison built in the 1940s.

"For instance, we've got foot-thick concrete walls," he said.

The department turned down The Star's request for a tour of the facility to show where the construction problems lie. Corbett said such a tour might be possible in the future, after construction begins.

For some of the prison’s critics, the wait for the new cameras has been uncomfortable.

"It would help bring out the facts, regardless of which side the facts support," said Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. Boyd is co-chair of the state's Commission on Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System, which for years has called for Tutwiler to be closed and replaced with more modern facilities.

Boyd said the cameras would protect inmates from sexual assault — and would protect guards from false accusations of the same.

"Not only is it important to have cameras in Tutwiler, they should have cameras in all of them," Boyd said. "Men's prisons as well."

The lack of cameras in men's prisons became an issue earlier this year when former guards faced charges in the death of Rocrast Mack, an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton. According to Associated Press accounts of one trial, the attack on Mack was not caught on tape because there weren't cameras in high-traffic areas of the prison.

At Tutwiler, Corbett said, there are cameras in only a few areas, such as the prison's lobby.

John Shaffer, a Pennsylvania-based corrections consultant who spent 31 years working in that state's Corrections Department, said cameras are ubiquitous in most prisons.

"They're so commonplace, I'd consider them a must-have," Shaffer said.

Cameras are important for the safety of inmates and guards, he said, because they allow prison officials to monitor what's going on when there’s a fight or other security problem. Cameras can't completely make up for a shortage of guards in an understaffed prison, he said, but they do help.

"They also protect the inmates from abuse because the staff know that they're being observed," he said.

Shaffer said there's nothing unusual about the state's schedule for installation of cameras at Tutwiler. Prison construction projects, he said, are riddled with security-related demands that don't crop up elsewhere. Workers have to be cleared to enter the prison, he said, and prison schedules have to be reworked to avoid construction areas.

"You have to have total control of all inventory," he said. "Every tool has to be accounted for."

Boyd said cameras for Tutwiler would likely not have been on the agenda if not for the rape allegations at the prison. It's unfortunate, she said, that the state hadn't installed them long ago.

"I wish it could be done in a more speedy manner," she said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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