Kennedy had served 14 years of a life sentence with parole, following a 2004 conviction of burglary and attempted murder. His release was set for November 26, 2018, one week after he was killed, his sister Teresa told ThinkProgress.
“He wouldn’t have risked anything, he wanted to get out,” Teresa said of her brother, who was an auto-mechanic with five children. One of his sons would call him at prison several times a week and they’d talk for hours. Another is due to graduate from high school this year, a ceremony Kennedy was looking forward to.
Kennedy’s case isn’t unique in Alabama, where the prison homicide rate is the highest in the nation at more than 34 per 100,000 prisoners. The level of violence has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, as prisons in the state come under fire for “horrendously inadequate” care that violate the U.S. constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Holman Penitentiary in Escambia County, Alabama is one of the state’s worst offenders. Over the course of nine days last month, from December 2 to December 11, there were at least four separate stabbing incidents at Holman alone.
In response to the slew of stabbings, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a campaign of incarcerated individuals organizing through non-violent direct action for the end of prison slavery, called for an emergency response task force to lead a fact-finding mission at Holman, seeking to bring clarity and public scrutiny to the situation.
While an investigation has not yet been initiated, other prisoner advocates have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness of the crisis. Following the murder of Vaquerro Kinjuan, a 29-year-old with a 22-year sentence for first degree robbery, who died in the first series of stabbings at Holman in December, Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based non-profit committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment, published a report showing that the homicide rate in Alabama prisons is more than 600 percent higher than the national average.
Prisoners like Derrick, who has served 20 years of a 22-year sentence at Holman and wishes to withhold his last name for safety reasons, claim that corrections officers knowingly “put certain people close to each other that have a history of violence toward one another, which leads to more blood spilled. If they wanted the violence to stop, they wouldn’t keep doing this.”
The reason, according to Derrick and prison justice groups, is that the state, pointing to overcrowding and minimal staffing, wants to justify building more maximum security prisons, a move that would only exacerbate the current crisis.
Homicides aren’t the only threat in Alabama penitentiaries. For decades, prisoners at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama have been raped and forced to engage in oral sex by corrections officers. Incidents of officers watching women in the shower, groping them, organizing strip shows, and refusing to give women clean uniforms unless they partook in sexual acts were reported by the Department of Justice in 2014. Those who report the abuse are often locked in solitary confinement. [MORE]