For two years FOX6 News has covered a federal investigation of alleged sexual abuse of inmates at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. And for just as long, we have asked to go inside the prison.
Friday, that request was finally granted.
Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Kim Thomas and prison staff led the media tour and only allowed journalists to record video in certain parts of the prison.
Thomas wanted media to see some of the improvements ADOC has made in response to several scathing reports about alleged sexual abuse and the conditions that lead to it, such as poor security and lack of privacy for inmates.
The media was only allowed to visit Dorm A and adjacent to it, Warden Bobby Barrett showed them a bathroom with new privacy features like partitions between the toilets and curtains on the showers. The other bathrooms at the prison do not have these features but officials hope they soon will.
"It was important for us to make the privacy available to them and we think we've done a good job of that and we're going to get some feedback from the women as well on how it's working for them," Thomas said.
The prison staff also showed off some of the 300, newly-installed security cameras. The state legislature approved $1.4 million to pay for the equipment. Officials hope the camers will help eliminate the many blind spots in security and help improve accountability and investigations of wrongdoing. The system is expected to be fully operational in July.
"It's going to be the blueprint for other programs that we implement across the state," Thomas said.
We also walked through the trade school where inmates learn different vocations.
"If we get it right then we transform lives and we turn inmates into responsible citizens who have jobs, who pay taxes and are no longer a burden," Thomas said.
FOX6 News was not allowed to speak with any inmates though some expressed interest, shouting "help us" and "we want to talk to you."
After touring Tutwiler, FOX6 News traveled nearby to the Wetumpka Women's Facility, which is currently an empty series of cottages. ADOC is renovating them and they could house between 300 and 400 women, which could help relieve Tutwiler's overcrowding.
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