Corrections Officers Quietly Speak-Out on Unsafe Prison Conditions Following CO Death

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Updated with response from DOC below

Atmore, AL (WKRG)

The recent death of a corrections officer at Holman prison has sparked fear, grief and outrage among officers at prisons around the state. Officer Kenneth Bettis was stabbed in the head by an inmate earlier this month. Bettis died Friday. Now one former CO is speaking out. Trying to spread the word for officers who he says are getting overworked and under protected.

I met Curt Stidham in Atmore Sunday morning. He showed me a stunning collection in his pick-up truck. It’s a collection of a dozen improvised weapons he says he confiscated at Holman Prison over the course of his two years there. He has two the same type of weapon inmate Cleveland Cunningham is accused of using to attack Officer Kenneth Bettis. Stidham offers human details that shed light on the 44-year-old’s last day on the job. Stidham claims Bettis was the only CO that day supervising the chow hall. He was dealing with a crowd of 150 to 200 men. Stidham said Cunningham wanted more fries. French fries may be a common thing to us on the outside, but Stidham said French fries are prized by inmates, they’re one of the few foods it’s hard to mess up and it’s a connection to what life is like on the outside. Bettis denied the request for more fries and he was reportedly attacked.

“Just because some inmate had a bad day, Officer Bettis lost his life,” said Stidham. The inmate gets the blame for the death of the CO but other officers believe there’s more here than just one incident.

“I think he’s dead due to lack of security within that prison,” said Stidham. “It’s impossible to follow the rules you are given or the ‘regs’ because there’s absolutely not enough security there to complete those tasks.” Since Bettis’ death, corrections officers here now at Holman have been staging their own sort of protest.

“To just go strictly by the rules and the ‘regs’ set by the department of corrections, if they didn’t have enough officers to secure a post or weren’t able to do it,” said Stidham. He said that forced higher-ups to call in more officers–which helps but they need more people behind these walls. He brought me a four-page hand-written letter he says was written by a group of current CO’s. Among their list of concerns, they claim:

  • No administrator was in the prison when CO Bettis was stabbed.
  • Saturday they had nine corrections officers on the floor for an inmate population of 944.
  • Handcuffs and full cans of pepper spray are in short supply.
  • The segregation annex never has a supervisor present.
  • The six towers and two roving vehicles are never completely manned at all times, even though the prison website says the positions are operated 24-hours a day.

Stidham decided to leave after March’s highly publicized riot–he says he was ordered to close a gate, called for backup and no one responded.

“That’s a very bad feeling to know you don’t have assistance coming and things are being thrown at you and you’re being hit,” said the former CO. Inmate Cleveland Cunningham is being charged with murder. You can read the letter here.

Specific supervisor names have been removed. We sent an e-mail to a Department of Corrections spokesman but haven’t gotten a response. It is Sunday and staff is usually off on the weekend.

UPDATE 6:35 PM

DOC spokesman Bob Horton sent this response to News 5:

“The Alabama Department of Corrections recognizes that there has been an increase in violent incidents in state prisons over the past five years, and Holman Correctional Facility is no exception. The systemic issues throughout the department directly correlate to serious overcrowding, understaffing, and outdated facilities. Holman Correctional Facility is just one example of what the entire system faces,” said Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

“ADOC is taking steps to help mitigate inmate violence by fully manning the department’s Intelligence and Investigations Division, increasing facility security inspections, and prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law.

As the ADOC has proposed, the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative addresses these chronic issues of overcrowding, understaffing and outdated facilities, which will lead to safer prisons and increase public safety.

Regards,

Bob Horton

Alabama Department of Corrections

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