MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Thousands of inmates in Alabama’s overcrowded prison system are getting just two meals a day during an inmate work stoppage that turned into its fourth day Thursday, and the agency said weekend visits were also canceled.
While inmates and activists have accused the Department of Corrections of using pressure tactics in an attempt to end the demonstration, officials said the reduced rations and lack of visits were the result of a shortage of inmates.
Inmates make up much of the workforce in prisons, the department said, so the incarceration eliminated one of three meals normally served to make up for the lack of workers.
“This is not a retaliatory measure, but logistically necessary to ensure other critical services are provided,” the department said in a statement.
The department said most major male prisons were still affected by Thursday’s strike, and that visit was canceled this weekend due to the disruptions and their impact on prison staff.
“Inmates have been notified and encouraged to notify any visitors,” the agency said.
Photos on social media showed brown bag meals consisting of a corndog or peanut butter sandwich. The prison system said it would return to regular meal service once the strike is over, but it was not clear how long that would last.
Governor Kay Ivey has rejected demands for criminal justice reform, including changes to the criminal laws for multiple offenders, calling them unreasonable.
Alabama jails held more than 20,000 inmates in July, when the Department of Corrections released its final statistical report, despite being designed for just 12,115 people. The department operates 13 large prisons for men, the largest of which houses more than 2,200 men and one for women.
The Justice Department is suing Alabama for the conditions in its prisons, saying the state is failing to protect male inmates from inmate violence and excessive force by prison staff.
The 2020 lawsuit alleges that conditions in the prison system are so bad that they violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual sentences and state officials are “deliberately indifferent” to the issues. Alabama officials have acknowledged the problems but deny living conditions violate constitutional standards.