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Female Prison Inmates Struggle at Alabama Prison for Women

By Christopher Zoukis

When you put any human being in a box and put others in charge, you create an environment that is ripe for abuse without strict oversight.  Unfortunately, because prisons are supposed to be a punishment for law breakers (and those confined therein have left victims in their wake), there is often very little sympathy for inmates, and that means that millions of inmates are placed in prisons that are matrices for abuse.

Female prison inmates are especially prone to abuse from prison guards and other prison employees, because it is more difficult for them to defend themselves against such abuses.  The United States Department of Justice is currently investigating one of the worst cases of this abuse at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama, where rapes and harassment have been common occurrence for almost two decades.

Years of Abuse in Alabama Prison for Women

It is estimated that over 33 percent of the female prisoners at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have been forced into sexual relations with employees of the prison, often for basic necessities such as toilet paper.  The New York Times reports that this type of abuse has not only been active for over 18 years, but that prison officials knew of the abuse early on and did nothing to put a stop to it.  They simply turned a blind eye.

While abusive prison employees are, and have been, an ongoing problem at the prison, local lawmakers argue that there are three other reasons responsible for these abhorrent conditions:

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Prison Education: A Reward for Crime or a Tool to Stop It

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy www.prisoneducationproject.org-

A National Network of Prison Education Programs

The 1980s were a period of expansion for prison education programs.  Through the vehicle of federal financial assistance, inmates were able to enroll in vocational and college courses in their prisons, programs offered through community colleges and state universities alike.  For a period, prisoners had a meaningful chance at learning a quality trade or even earning an associate’s or bachelor’s college degree during their term of imprisonment.  Over 350 in-prison college programs flourished, with professors teaching classes “live,” in the prisons.

The Collapse: Congress Slams the Door on Education in Prison

All of this came to a screeching halt with the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.  The Act, a component of the anti-prison education agenda pushed in Congress and the Senate, imposed a ban on inmates receiving any form of federal financial aid to assist them in the pursuit of an education.  With the slashed funding, nearly every externally supported prison education program in the nation shut down, and the result was an increase in prisoner unrest, violence, and recidivism.  Colleges, prisoners, and prison administrators alike objected, and loudly so, but their pleas fell upon deaf ears.

Advocates for eliminating Pell Grants and other need-based financial assistance for prisoners claimed that those incarcerated shouldn’t be given government funding to pursue education.  They advanced an agenda asserting that prisoners were taking funding away from traditional college students — a patently false assertion — and that offering college to inmates was a reward for crime.  Some even had the gall to suggest that people were committing crimes in order to go to prison, where they could obtain a college education.  It was a political firestorm like no other, and one based on emotion, not fact, logic, or empirical research.

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