Why the William C. Holman Correctional Facility is a ticking time bomb
Perspectives from the field about the current conditions at Holman
Increased signs of danger and an overwhelming sense of fear led to the call off of as many as nine COs at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama.
Corrections seems to be plagued with issues that is evidenced at multiple facilities across the nation. Understaffed facilities are desperate to hire and are now looking for quantity, as opposed to quality of personnel. Being severely under resourced has put multiple correctional facilities in a purely reactive mode. Prevention is now nonexistent. Poorly equipped COs are forced to remain on the defensive with no means to de-escalate if needed. Equipment is either faulty or non-existent. Budget concerns have left us with correctional facilities that are severely vulnerable. Safety and security has been thrown to the wind. Those in charge are seeking areas they can cut back on, as opposed to what can be improved.
The focus needs to shift to what can be done to make the environment safer for those who work and reside within correctional facilities. Any effort to save money, without safety and security in mind, directly conflicts with the safety and security of all our correctional facilities.
During an interview with Timothy Stidham, former Lieutenant of Holman, he stated, “Inmates feel they are in complete control of Holman after the death of Officer Kenneth Bettis.” On September 1, 2016, Officer Bettis was stabbed in the temple by an inmate-crafted ice pick while he was assigned to kitchen rover. Kitchen rover is a position that oversees the inmate traffic between the unit and chow hall. Officer Bettis was stabbed because he declined an inmate’s request for more fries. He died on September 16, 2016, as a result of his injuries.
Keith Hellwig, who is a Captain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, believes that inmates are motivated by their need for immediate satisfaction. According to Captain Hellwig,"They seek satisfaction without any regard to the consequences.”
In March 2016, two riots broke out at Holman which led to the stabbing of a CO and a warden. Both riots took place on C dorm, which is an open bay area that houses 130 inmates. “Open dorm areas present a good opportunity for inmates to unite and organize,” Stidham said. In some cases, limited staff has left one CO controlling two open dorms with over two hundred inmates.
Russell Hamilton, a retired sergeant from the California Department of Corrections, believes that the greatest danger of working dorms is the ability to shut things down quickly. “You end up with a cascading chain reaction that has the potential to spread from one dorm to the next. Your ability to control is based on the physical ability to isolate both the housing units and the inmates from each other. Add in some flammable structures and you end up with a situation similar to that of CIM in California 2009 where an entire section of the prison was destroyed.”
The COs at Holman are not just afraid, they’re frustrated. Stidham went on to say, “At this point, officer’s feel that the inmates have more rights and they feel that administration has left them stranded, not allowing them to do their job as trained.”
The COs at Holman are working in an environment that is understaffed and poorly equipped. “With 11 COs assigned to a shift, the ratio of inmate to CO can be one to about 80,” Stidham said. “With these limited numbers, death row is unstaffed most of the time, the yard time is limited, the healthcare unit is not always staffed, visitation is not run properly, assaults on staff has risen, searches are not being done, overtime is excessive, staff is exhausted and with no senior COs, rookie officers have no one to turn to when a question arises.”
Right now, with limited incentive, senior staff members are hard to retain and attracting new employees is becoming increasingly difficult. Russell Hamilton, retired sergeant for from the California Department of Corrections, was quick to note that attraction and retention requires more than just money and benefits. He said, “Training, equipment, money and peace officer status are the four things people both look for and have a hard time walking away from. Those four elements also give any hiring authority the ability to pick and choose high quality candidates.”
At this point, COs at Holman are looking to be heard. They feel that the line of communication between frontline and administration is broken. “Communication is only going one way and now the facility is operating in desperation mode,” Stidham said. With limited staff at Holman, the facility can only react (which is somewhat limited), as opposed to prevent an event from occurring.
Stidham believes Holman is a ticking time bomb and if the COs’ concerns are not addressed (understaffing, better equipment, better communication and understanding from administration), then the DOJ must come in to investigate before this bomb goes off and takes everyone out with it.