Archibald: Alabama prison system makes it harder to count its dead

By John Archibald

The Alabama Criminal Justice Center on Ripley Street in Montgomery.

One thing is true, and incontrovertible.

People hide stuff for a reason. Because they’re embarrassed, maybe, or guilty. Because they are skittish, or shy, or perhaps nefarious, or secretive. Because they hold on to a childish belief that if they deny, deny, deny, then no one can ever prove them wrong.

Another thing is true.

People don’t hide stuff they’re proud of.

The Alabama Department of Corrections – I first learned this from tweets by Evan Mealins of the Montgomery Advertiser, so props to him for keeping an eye out during the holidays – has decided to stop reporting inmate deaths, including homicides and suicides, in its monthly reports.

Instead, it will report them in its quarterly reports, which run notoriously behind.

It’s like hiding your cookies after having your hand caught in the jar.

This is a department already under scrutiny and pressure because of inmate deaths and assaults, where more than 130 people died between January and September last year, and perhaps far more. The Equal Justice Initiative has reported more than 220 deaths, topping the pandemic years.

And this is what the DOC does in response? It changes the way it reports deaths. It decides not to tell the people of this state that men and women in its charge are dying inside the publicly built walls?

Like children, who hide candy wrappers under their pillows with the hope and belief the evidence will never be found.

This is a department – let me say it again – that was excoriated by the U.S. Justice Department as a constitutional catastrophe that failed to guard against violence, sexual abuse, and death.

And hell, that was Donald Trump’s justice department.

How do we allow this? How do we rationalize it in a state that officially claims to value life, in the buckle of the Bible Belt? Perhaps it is because we are in the halo of our own hypocrisy.