Alabama, Justice Department reach deal on prison reform

The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women was the subject of a 2014 Justice Department report that found prisoners were subjected to sexual abuse and harassment.

(CNN)The U.S. Justice Department and the Alabama Department of Corrections reached an agreement Thursday meant to protect inmates at the notorious Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

That prison, in Wetumpka, Alabama, was the subject of a 2014 Justice Department report that found prisoners were subjected to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff.
In a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley last year, federal officials said the inmates "universally fear for their safety" and "live in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior."
The alleged violations included "strip shows" and "cross-gender viewing" of female prisoners as they undressed in front of correction staff. The Justice Department also said inmates at the facility in Wetumpka, north of Montgomery, had "inadequate conditions" of confinement and medical and mental health care.
    "Prisoners are entitled to be safe from sexual predation by staff, and to live in an environment free from sexual assault, sexual harassment and the constant fear of these abuses," Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division and principal deputy assistant attorney general, said in a statement Thursday to announce the deal.
    "Our agreement uses gender-responsive and trauma-informed principles designed to address and eliminate the culture of abuse that Tutwiler's women prisoners have suffered from and endured for years," Gupta said.
    Tutwiler must, among other things:
    -- Ensure sufficient staff
    -- Investigate allegations, promptly and thoroughly
    -- Make sure prisoners are aware of their rights and how to report abuse
    -- Protect inmates from the threat of retaliation
    -- Provide women who allege abuse unimpeded access to treatment and services
    -- Take appropriate disciplinary action against staff found to have engaged in illegal or inappropriate behavior
    "From the beginning, the ADOC has worked tirelessly to address the concerns at Tutwiler, and today's agreement is a positive step forward in that process," Bentley said. "I am proud of the reforms we have made at Tutwiler, and I know we have more to do. We will continue our efforts to make Tutwiler a better facility for those who live and work there."