By: Jahbrielle Henning-Rayford, Your Black World
On August 14, 2010 a young man was murdered by his guards at Ventress Correctional Facility in Montgomery, Alabama. Six guards took turns beating him after a small altercation between the young man and a female guard. Having been badly beaten, the young man was taking to Jackson Hospital where he was pronounced brain dead. Doctors performed surgery, and although he regained consciousness the next day, 24-year old, Rocrast Mack died a few hours later.
In 2009, Mack pleaded guilty for selling $10 worth of crack to an undercover cop. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The murder has not gone unrecognized. A year after the incident, the Alabama attorney general charged Lt. Michael Smith, the head officer responsible, with intentional murder. The Justice Department said, Scottie T. Glenn, a junior officer who was also involved in the beating, pleaded guilty for violating Mack’s rights, and trying to cover up the assault.
Although the charges against the officers are certainly just, civil rights activists believe the real solution is changing the conditions within the prisons. They wish to change the hostile environment that lead to the violent behavior of inmates and guards.
Ventress Correctional Facility, where the murder took place, was built in 1990. The facility was meant to house 650 men. Today, 1,665 prisoners occupy it.
“Alabama is facing a crisis with its prisons—too many inmates and not enough beds,” wrote Cam Ward, who is the Republican chairman of the state of senate’s judiciary committee. Such conditions have led to an increase in violence between inmates and brutality from guards to inmates.
Rocrast Mack’s beating and murder was not a shock to those who know the Alabama prison system. “What happened…is almost predictable,” said Charlotte Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the prisoner legal assistance group, Equal Justice Initiative.
Although the Alabama Department of Corrections has tried to write off Mack’s murder as an isolated event, Alabama’s prison system has had its share of violence. In fact, court records prove that violent events within the prison’s had occurred, and been overlooked before Mack’s murder. The records also show that “[Lt. Michael] Smith was the subject of other allegations” before he participated in the murder of Rocrast Mack.
Other corrections officers and facilities have been known for violence against inmates. “There is a disturbing level of staff-on-inmate violence…much of which is not investigated or questioned.”
In 2005, Charles Agee, a mentally ill prisoner at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Birmingham, was hit in the head numerously and punched in the stomach. After hitting his head against a wall, Agee went into a seizure, and died. The officers responsible were not charged, even though the coroner’s office ruled Agee’s death a homicide.
Last year’s murder of Rocrast Mack has led to a serious investigation of Alabama’s Correctional Facilities. Hopefully, the fire underneath them will cause them to take a good, hard look at themselves. One thing’s for sure: the state of Alabama has a long way to go.