Alabama’s St. Clair Prison: A Sentence to Hell and the Need for a Whole New Future

April 3, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


An Appeal to Those the System has Cast Off

The U.S. has by far the largest prison system in the world, with over two million people behind bars. It also has one of the most brutal.

Case in point, Alabama’s St. Clair prison, the subject of a recent article in the New York Times (“An Alabama Prison’s Unrelenting Descent Into Violence,” March 28, 2017). There, over 1,000 men face severe overcrowding, lack of educational or medical facilities, and most of all, the constant threat of violence, 24-7.

First, there’s the brutality from the authorities, who have complete contempt for the lives of the inmates. A former St. Clair warden admitted that many guards had a “cut-off ax handle mentality” about how to treat prisoners. And violence against inmates is almost a condition for promotion. One supervisor was repeatedly disciplined, including for punching an inmate in the face while he was restrained; he was later promoted to deputy warden. And in 2014, the St. Clair warden punched a handcuffed inmate twice in the head for swearing. Nothing happened to him. A lawsuit filed by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), describes numerous beatings at the hands of guards, including of shackled inmates, resulting in broken bones or stitches.

Meanwhile, the same suit reveals that suicidal inmates have been given razor blades by guards, and others have been told, “If you die, you die.” Denied medical care, many inmates have lost use of arms or legs, or died unnecessarily. Ill inmates have been placed under “do not resuscitate” orders without their consent.

But on top of the damage prison authorities wreak directly, they also create a situation where inmates and gangs caught up in the predatory outlook of this system have free rein and power in the prison. Inmates receive almost nothing from the institution and have almost nothing to do, but guards funnel drugs and other contraband into the hands of some prisoners who then are in a position of power, creating a situation where people have to bargain, steal, or fight for whatever they need. Failure to make a payment on contraband means a beat-down or worse. A prison expert cited in the Times said that “The frequency of assaults resulting in life-threatening injuries is quite simply among the highest I have [ever] observed.”

The prison authorities claim that “Our priority is on inmate and staff safety.” But this lie is exposed by the fact that locks on cells have not worked effectively for over 30 years, meaning that inmates may wake up in the middle of the night with an armed intruder in the cell to rape, beat or rob him. And when inmates complain to the authorities about violent threats, they are often told “get a knife”! Many inmates have been murdered in their cells. All this would be vastly reduced just by effectively locking the cells!

This system of capitalism-imperialism treats people in the oppressed communities like garbage with no chance at a decent future. It pumps the people (and the whole society) full of the dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one ideology that is the real religion of the capitalist system. Then the rulers of this system lock people up in even more brutal and violent conditions. And now, they are using the inevitable violence among the prisoners to justify even more repression.

EJI and other groups are fighting for better health care, more educational programs and to prevent the most vicious brutality, and that’s good as far as it goes. But the actual solution is a whole new society fit for and nurturing of all human beings.

If you want to learn more about how the communists see the problem of crime, the role and transformation of prisoners today in the revolutionary struggle, and how prisons themselves will be radically transformed after the revolution, check out the following:

Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, in particular the section on “Legal and Civil Rights and Liberties” (p. 64)

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BA’s An Appeal to Those This System Has Cast Off


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