Our Cameras Inside Tutwiler Prison

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By Catalina Trivino

The Tutwiler women's prison in Wetumpka has been under fire for years for its conditions and for allegations that guards are sexually abusing and harrassing the female inmates. Tonight -- for the first time in nearly 12 years, our cameras have been allowed to go inside the prison so we can see the conditions for ourselves.. and check out some changes.

Reporter Catalina Trivino went inside the prison.

Trivino says the first thing she noticed was how many people were in there. Tutwiler is supposed to house 700 women inmates. It was holding nearly 1,000 inmates, but prison commissioner, Kim Thomas, says that's one of the changes they're working on.

News cameras inside Tutwiler Prison?

We got an inside look on what it is like within these walls, as prison officials try to address sexual safety and conditions at the prison.

Back in January, this is what a former inmate told us about how she says a prison guard treated the female inmates.

"Now in the bathrooms, there was no door. so he would literally, put his hand up on the top and reach over and look at the females and sit there and talk to them while they were naked," Said the former inmate.

But when we entered the bathroom in Dorm A, this is what we saw.

"Shower curtains in the shower area to provide them privacy while they're showering it was important for us to find a way to make the privacy available for them," Said Deputy Commissioner, Wendy Williams.

Williams says the toilet partitions are about a week old. But Dorm A's bathroom is the only one like it. Prison officials say others will be renovated in the coming months.

Both the former inmate who talked to us and another inmate we spoke to by phone in February told us that having male guards watching them was a problem. 

"Like if you're coming out of the shower, they're doing their count or walk through or something... they'll say, "mmm. You got a nice body. How old are you? Or you got a nice set of t***s. Or you got a nice a**. You got nice legs," Said the Tutwiler inmate.

So is it still happening? Prison Commissioner, Kim Thomas, says there are still male guards over-seeing female inmates in the showers, but that number is going down as they recruit more female guards.

But the number of these cameras is going up. There will be more than 300 of them installed by mid-July.  Thomas hopes it will keep inmates and prison guards accountable.

"To make sure we have the real proof we need to go after these people who continue to violate the regulations and the training we've provided," Said Prison Commissioner, Kim THomas.

The idea is that a safer, cleaner prison will be a better place to rehabilitate these women. That way, they're more likely to become productive members of society and not ever return to Tutwiler. To help do that, the J.F. Ingram Technical College is inside the prison, where inmates can learn Automotive Mechanics, Cosmetology, Office Information Systems, Upholstery or Welding.

Prison officials say they'll be moving about 300 to 400 inmates to the old Tarwater facility behind Tutwiler, to create more space in one year. The renovations for the building begin this October.