“The frequency of assaults resulting in life-threatening injuries is quite simply among the highest I have observed in my 43-year career in corrections,” Steve J. Martin, who has examined hundreds of prisons nationwide as a corrections expert, wrote in a 2016 report prepared for a lawsuit over conditions at St. Clair. The prison reflected “a total breakdown of the necessary basic structures that are required to operate a prison safely,” he added in an interview.
In October, the Justice Department announced an investigation into all of the male prisons in Alabama, an extraordinarily broad inquiry, focusing on reports of rampant violence and sexual abuse at the hands of both inmates and staff members. The prisons here are operating at around 172 percent of capacity. This is actually a significant improvement after sentencing reforms, but it has been offset by a sharp plunge in the number of corrections officers.