Inmates set a fire, seized control of a dormitory and stabbed two corrections officials during a violent uprising at a prison in southern Alabama, authorities said Saturday. The riot prompted the governor to repeat an earlier call for measures to modernize the state’s prisons to make them safer and easier to control.
The William C. Holman Correctional Facility, which serves as the state’s only execution facility, was on lockdown hours after a riot erupted late Friday. Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Horton said the prison warden and a corrections officer were stabbed at one of the dormitories at the prison, just outside of Atmore. He said their injuries were not life-threatening.
About 100 inmates were involved, Horton said.
Holman is the only state prison where executions are carried out, although the dormitory where the violence erupted is not death row.
Horton said three emergency response teams were deployed to bring the prison dorm under control. He said the facility is now calm and remains on lockdown. The violence erupted Friday night when an inmate stabbed an officer while the officer was trying to break up a fight between two inmates.
Warden Carter Davenport was stabbed when he and other officers arrived to assess the situation.
“When the warden responded to the situation he was also stabbed. Inmates tried to take control of one of the dorms,” Horton said.
Video that was apparently shot from inside the prison by an inmate with a contraband cellphone shows inmates starting a fire at the end of the dormitory and running around the dormitory.
“It is going down,” said the inmate on the expletive-filled video after talking about the stabbings of the warden and officer.
The Department of Corrections confirmed that some inmates inside the prison were able to publish photos of the disturbance using social media. Corrections officers were conducting a complete search of the prison for illegal cellphones and other contraband, prison officials said.
It was the second incidence of violence within a week in the state’s troubled prison system, which has come under criticism for overcrowding and staffing level concerns.
A corrections officer was stabbed Monday at St. Clair Correctional facility in Springville while trying to break up a fight between two inmates. An officer was also stabbed at St. Clair in November.
Six inmates were killed across the state prison system in inmate-on-inmate assaults in 2015, according to previously provided information from the Department of Corrections.
Alabama prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates the facilities were originally designed to house. Last month, Gov. Robert Bentley announced an initiative to build four new prisons, three for men and one for women, to reduce overcrowding and improve safety. The men’s facilities would be designed to house at least 3,500 inmates. Most of the existing facilities would be closed.
On Saturday, Bentley said he was grateful that there were no major injuries during the riot, and he commended the Department of Corrections for getting the situation under control quickly. He used the occasion to call for reforms within the prison system.
“We have had two incidents just this week at our prison facilities. Prisons are overcrowded & poor design makes them a major safety concern,” Bentley said in statement posted to his Twitter account.
“The situation at #Holman is under control, but is another reminder that we must address the issues that plague our prison system,” Bentley tweeted.
The most recent monthly statistics available from the Alabama Department of Corrections show 830 prisoners housed at Holman in December. While the prison was designed to hold 581 inmates, it was packed with 835 beds at the time.
“It’s going to get worse and worse until we still start dealing with the overcrowding,” Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the legislative Prison oversight committee, told The Associated Press.
“You can’t have that low level of staffing and that many inmates in such a small confined inmates,” he said. “Anybody who has been inside the facilities know what a dangerous situation those officers work in every day.”