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SCHR Sends Second Warning Letter to Lee Arrendale State Prison Over Unconstitutional and Inhumane Conditions

Last week, SCHR sent a second warning letter to Lee Arrendale State Prison Warden Murray Tatum, outlining the horrific conditions of confinement that persist at the prison. Despite the prison’s constitutional obligation to provide safe conditions of confinement – and despite an initial warning letter that we sent in April of this year, we continue to receive reports that the conditions at Arrendale are putting women at great risk of serious harm. 

Women at Arrendale live in filthy cells with defective plumbing and electricity and receive limited access to cleaning and hygiene supplies. A mold infestation results in women having difficulty breathing, experiencing constant debilitating headaches, and suffering from skin rashes; chronic understaffing results in poor medical care, unchecked violence, and insufficient meal portions. Food is both inedible (at times labeled ‘not fit for human consumption’) and scarce — women in one dorm recently reported receiving only peaches for a meal because the kitchen had run out of food. The prison’s water is brown and contaminated, and at least one woman reportedly contracted a bacterial infection from drinking it. The grievance process is ineffective and attorney-client correspondence is illegally intercepted, leaving women without access to the courts. Women who share details of these horrific conditions with us have reported immediate retaliation, including being removed from work details, honor dorm placements, or being transferred out of the prison entirely. 

Women in the immediate postpartum period—one of the most vulnerable and dangerous times in a mother’s life—are subjected to particularly egregious conditions. For instance, some women who have just given birth are sometimes sent to Arrendale wearing clothing soaked with afterbirth fluid and blood and not given clean clothes for days on end. One mother was forced to remove her own vaginal stitches with a toenail clipper after developing an infection that was left untreated, despite her repeated and frantic requests for medical attention. Another new mother had to wait approximately three weeks to receive iron for her anemia, ibuprofen for severe cramping, and postnatal vitamins. Another was denied contact with her baby’s caregiver for six weeks. And despite suffering from postpartum depression, she was denied mental health treatment for nearly two months. 

Since sending the first letter to Warden Tatum in April, we have received additional reports that women are not given access to recreation for months at a time; that they experience retaliation for speaking with our staff about conditions; and that the drinking water is contaminated, the mold infestation is worsening, and the prison is not complying with safe food handling practices. The prison remains chronically understaffed, with 67% of positions left unfilled as of April 2021. 

The letter (which you can read below) asks that a number of immediate actions be taken to remedy the unconstitutional and cruel treatment, and that Warden Tatum respond to our letter by July 26, 2021. No response has yet been received.