Alabama Department of Corrections History

When the territory of Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819, and for several decades afterward, the young state of Alabama did not have a prison system. Surprisingly, especially when contrasted with today’s way of thinking, the people of the 1820’s and 1830’s did not want a prison system. As a general rule of the early Alabama frontiersmen, the administration of justice was best left in the hands of the local citizens, or when available, with county officials. Even in the county seats, justice was swift and harsh, as the towns vindictively encouraged their sheriffs to stage hangings in the public square. These festive spectacles attracted large crowds from miles around, eager for the entertainment atmosphere created by the settlement’s merchants. Floggings, branding, and other mutilation and humiliation punitive events were also made public. Hanging offenses included murder, rape, robbery, burglary, stealing slaves, rustling livestock, counterfeiting, and treason.

Credited by some historians as being the Father of Alabama Corrections, Governor John Gayle repeatedly tried during 1831 through 1834 to introduce legislation that would create a more civilized criminal code that included a state penitentiary system. Fearful of state government encroachment, the "home rule counties preferred their brand of justice," and resisted the state’s efforts to develop a penitentiary system until January 26, 1839. Then, under Governor Arthur P. Bagby, the State Legislature enacted a criminal code that authorized a state penitentiary system.

By August 21, 1839, after seeking a location that was central to Alabama, property for a prison was purchased adjacent to the Coosa River near Wetumpka. In October of that year, Governor Bagby laid the cornerstone of the Wetumpka State Penitentiary and by 1841 the 208 cell prison surrounded by walls twenty-five feet high was completed at a cost of $84,889.

The organizational structure of the penitentiary system had a warden over the prison’s operation, three Inspectors of the Penitentiary (IP) who had general control over state and county convicts, and who operated directly under the Governor. During November of 1841, Governor Benjamin Fitspatrick appointed John Watson, J. M. Armstrong, and S. S. Simmons to be Inspectors of the Penitentiary. William Hogan was selected to be Alabama’s first prison warden.

The first inmate entered the Wetumpka State Penitentiary (WSP) in 1842 with a twenty year sentence for harboring a runaway slave. WSP was called "The Walls of Alabama" or more diminutively as the "Walls." Once established, the prison population during this period was composed of white immigrants (99%) and free blacks (1%). The laws of the time said that enslaved blacks had no freedom to infringe upon, and were thus punished extralegally by their owners for alleged offenses.

The prison was supposed to have operated self-sufficiently from the tax-payer’s support but failed decisively. The prison industry of hand manufacturing of wagons and buggies, saddles and harnesses, shoes, and rope did not produce the capital necessary for self-sufficiency. This disappointing drain on the tax coffers did not go unnoticed by the "home rule" public.

On February 4, 1846, an act was passed which permitted private individuals to lease WSP’s facilities and convicts. J. G. Graham became the first private sector contract warden. In 1850 the first female convict was admitted after receiving a ten year sentence for murder, and she was kept in virtual solitary confinement in a single room of the prison’s hospital.

In 1862, private sector warden Dr. Ambrose Burrows was killed by a convict and the state resumed control of the prison with Dr. M. G. Moore as warden. Warden Moore used the convict labor for the war effort making wagon wheels and caissons, paying into the State Treasury about $80,000 Confederate dollars. Except for a few hardened criminals, most convicts were pardoned for the war. In the spring of 1865, the Federal Troops released all convicts, except one who remained voluntarily at the Walls.

In 1866, under the Reconstructionist Republican Governor Robert M. Patton, laws were enacted which permitted the convicts to be leased outside the prison facilities. The convict contracting system proved to be especially profitable in rebuilding the war-ravaged railroad system. On July 5, 1866, Baker Kyle was appointed as an Inspector of the Penitentiary and became Alabama’s first high ranking black prison official. The convict population had also changed from the previous 99% white to the postwar 90% black.

In 1873, the 2,000 acre Williams Plantation was purchased for $50,000. Located on the Tallapoosa River, the Penitentiary Farm was later to be known as Number Four Prison, Number Four Spot, and finally as Red Eagle Honor Farm.

With the completion of rebuilding the rail system, leasing convict labor was turned toward developing Alabama’s industrial expansion in mining of coal and iron, and in timber and turpentine production. Legislation was also enacted requiring better care and treatment of convicts in response to many reports of cruelty and barbarism.

On February 17, 1885, the Coleman Law made changes to the prison system. The main office was moved from Wetumpka to the State Capitol in Montgomery, giving greater political visibility to the prison administration. In addition, the positions of the IP’s and warden were abolished and a new organizational hierarchy established which consisted of a Board of Inspectors of Convicts (BIC) with the Board President being the warden. The BIC had control of approximately 500 state convicts and all county convicts.

In addition, on February 28, 1887, the efforts of Julia Tutwiler, "The Angel of the Stockades," were realized when contractors were required to provide suitable room and furniture for schools. Julia Tutwiler had traveled to the remote prison camps throughout Alabama ministering to the convicts and teaching them to read so they would be better citizens upon their eventual release.

On February 14, 1893, the Board of Managers (BOM) was created under a "New System" law. The New System provided for the termination of all contracts with private companies, and that the convicts were to be transferred to a state prison. Since new prisons would be needed to house the returning convicts, the law stipulated that a prison reformatory was to be built for convicts under 16 and for housing female convicts.

The BOM purchased a 4,058 acre tract around Speigner Station on the L&N Railroad and started construction on #2 Camp and #3 Camp. Completed on January 17, 1894, #2 and #3 Camps were located across from each other on Mortar Creek and were used for making bricks for the larger main prison. Speigner became the prison reformatory for male convicts 10 through 16 years of age and for all females. The women and boys earned their keep by working in the prison-owned Alabama Cotton Mill. This mill was powered by a hydro-electric dam built across Mortar Creek, which created Speigner Lake.

On August 31, 1894, there were 1,577 state and 899 county convicts for a total of 2,476 prisoners. Of these, a mere 605 convicts were in state prisons under state control with the majority of the convicts housed in the privately-owned mining prisons. By February 1895 the deadline for removing the convicts from the mines passed without being met. Consequently, the New System and BOM law was repealed and leasing to the private sector was allowed to continue.

However, the Alabama prison system had grown into the Wetumpka State Penitentiary, the Speigner Station Reformatory, the Alabama Cotton Mill, #2, #3, and #4 Camps. This growth was short lived with the reemphasis on leasing convicts and profit making from coal mining, saw mills, and turpentine stills. By 1897, #2 and #3 Camps were vacated and dismantled, and the cotton mill deteriorated in idleness.

During the period 1900 through 1920, a few bright spots in the convict’s work day surfaced. For example, convicts were permitted to earn extra money for their families by mining extra coal beyond their set quotas. One chaplain, W. D. Hubbard, helped brighten the convict’s lives by placing books in the prison camps, encouraging athletics, harmless vaudeville and simple amusements. In 1918 the first telephone system was installed between #4 Camp, Wetumpka Prison, and Speigner.

On September 30, 1919, the BIC was abolished and the Board of Control and Economy (BCE) was established. In 1922 and 1923 the BCE constructed and opened Kilby Prison, a modern walled prison located on 2,550 acres four miles north of the State Capitol at a cost of $2,250,000. With 27 acres enclosed by a 20 foot high reinforced concrete wall, the prison had a capacity of 900 convicts. The facility also had a hospital, power plant, laundry, kitchen and dining halls, showers, and many amenities taken for granted in today’s prisons. The main cell block had five floors with the top floor having single cells complete with private toilets and lavatories. Outside the walls were thirty or more bungalows for the officials and employees. A hotel was available for employees with families. Kilby worked inmates in a modern cotton mill and shirt factory, and in a large farming operation containing dairy and beef cattle, swine production, and vegetable and cash crops.

In 1923 the BCE was abolished and the Board of Convict Supervisors was created; however, the name was subsequently changed to the Board of Administration (BOA). The Convict Department came under the direct supervision of the BOA. Legislation also passed in 1923 which made it unlawful "for any person to lease or let for hire any state convict to any person, firm, or corporation." However, since there were not sufficient beds in the prison system to house the leased convicts, even with the addition of Kilby, the BOA-CD leased the mines and private prison camps instead and were thus able to house and continue working the convicts in the "state operated" mines.

Also the 1923 legislation provided for state-performed executions by electrocution in a room provided at Kilby. Up to that time, each county had conducted hangings held in private gallows instead of the public hangings of the frontier past. A convict, Ed Mason, built the electric chair, "Yellow Mama" for Kilby’s death row.

In 1926 the average total prison population was 3,000 convicts. The BOA-CD had eight prisons: Wetumpka, Speigner, #4 Camp, and Kilby were state-owned prisons; whereas River Falls, Aldrich, Banner, and Flat Top were state-leased mining prisons. A farming prison known as #5 Camp (and also as Buyck’s Farm), located several miles north of Wetumpka, was sold that year. Remnants of this hand-hewn wood timbered prison still exists today several miles from the present Tutwiler facility.

On April 8, 1927, the "Yellow Mama" was used for the first execution conducted in Alabama by electrocution.

In 1927 the BOA-CD removed all the white convicts from the mines and placed them in Kilby’s and Speigner’s cotton mills working a double shift. Convicts also started working under contract with the Highway Department on June 1, 1927, the beginning of the road camp era. Providing supervision to the convict labor used in constructing a system of state and national roadways, the Highway Department paid $2 a day per convict. Each road camp consisted of multiple WWI Army styled barracks for convict housing, kitchen and mess hall, hospital and administration, all enclosed inside a barbed wire fence. Several camps were completely portable and moved as the highway construction area moved. The eighteen road camps had a combined capacity of 1,500 convicts and were scattered throughout the state at Littleton, Lineville, Hackleburg, Hedonia, Mobile County, Wilsonville, Oxford, Arab, Samson, Piedmont, Alexander City, Whatley, Stapleton, Leeds, Banks, Clarke County Gravel Camp, Montgomery County Paving Camp, and Mobile County Paving Camp.

On March 13, 1928, a 3,600 acre farm in Escambia County was purchased and Moffett State Farm was built to receive the final movement of convicts from the mines on June 30, 1928. Similar to road camp construction, Moffett had wood-framed barracks with concrete foundations with baths and toilets on each wing. More land was purchased for a total of 8,360 acres, and Moffett, also referred to as the Atmore Prison Farm, became a demonstration farm for the state. Buildings were also constructed for the wardens and guards; a cold storage plant, a canning plant, and a 42 mile railroad. The total cost of Moffett State Farm was $452,544.90 with a capacity of 850 convicts. Provisions were also made for showing movies, radios, baseball and football outfits, and other amusement/recreation facilities.

On January 23, 1931, a fire destroyed a portion of Wetumpka Prison, and within forty days it was fully functional again. Wetumpka was co-correctional, housing both male and female convicts in segregated quarters, a practice that both Kilby and Speigner did for certain tasks.

On November 28, 1932, a fire destroyed the prison at Speigner. The Speigner cotton mill was kept in full operation by transporting the temporarily housed convicts daily between Wetumpka Prison and the mill. On December 26, 1932, temporary buildings were completed and the prisoners were moved back to Speigner.

Changes were made in the wearing of inmate uniforms to reflect an inmate’s classification. The better inmates were Class A and B inmates and wore brown clothing, whereas Class C inmates wore stripes. Inmates working in the kitchen, hospitals, or offices wore white uniforms.

On January 19, 1934, the Hawes-Cooper Law became effective, creating a boycott on prison-made goods. This adversely affected the sales of prison produced items and the underwear and shirt factories were closed. Also during 1934, a central warehouse was established at Kilby to handle the great variety of supplies used by the prison system.

By 1937, the wooden prison that had been hastily built at Speigner was in advance stages of decay. In February 1939, a new prison built to replace Speigner was completed. The 600 bed facility was named Draper after Hamp Draper, the Director of the BOA-CD. Draper cost $169,497.95 to construct and equip.

In 1939 the BOA was abolished and the Department of Corrections and Institution (DCI) was created.

In 1941 Draper was made to be a model prison reformatory for first offenders. Considered innovative, this included establishing vocational classes equipped to teach trade crafts to inmates. In contrast, #4 Camp was used strictly for farming with county misdemeanants. Atmore Prison Farm conducted statewide agriculture experiments raising silkworms in mulberry trees for silk production in addition to distributing several million kudzu plants to farmers for erosion control.

The Wetumpka Prison was used primarily for female convicts and its name was changed to Julia Tutwiler Prison. In July of 1941, a beauty parlor was completed for vocational education and rehabilitative purposes. Female inmates were also taught craft trades such as weaving rugs, drapes, and bedspreads.

The State Cattle Ranch was completed in 1941. The 4,680 acre ranch had barracks for 50 convicts that maintained a herd of 1,200 cattle.

In December of 1942, the current Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women was completed for a cost of $350,000 and had a capacity for 400 convicts. Tutwiler was built with inmate labor and had five cellblocks for black prisoners and two cellblocks for white prisoners, and separate dining halls. Miss Nell Farrar was the first female warden, heading a complete staff of women which was a first in the nation. The practice of keeping males and females at the same facility ended with the opening of the new Tutwiler Prison. The old Wetumpka Prison decreased in use and the property was sold in small parcels starting in 1945. One decayed building of the old prison remains today in Wetumpka.

On February 11, 1949, a fire burned Atmore Prison. By September 1950 a temporary barracks and hospital had been built and a modern prison was under construction. However, because of a lack of appropriations, it was 1955 before the new 852 capacity Atmore (later named Fountain) was completed at a cost of $850,000.

In 1950, the 450 acre Speigner Lake was opened to Draper inmates for swimming and fishing. The Speigner Cotton Mill was sold in 1952 and the building was used by Draper for manufacturing mattresses and brooms, and shops for printing, bed repair, shoes, and carpentry.

DCI was abolished in 1952 and a five-member Board of Corrections (BOC) was established. Board members were appointed by the Governor to serve staggered terms of ten years each. Among themselves, the members elected a chairman each year. They also appointed a Commissioner who administered the statewide prison system with the assistance of three deputy commissioners. Also in 1952, corporal punishment by the lash was outlawed.

A list of prisons and camps were Atmore, Draper, Tutwiler, Kilby & #4, the Cattle Ranch, and Camps Alexander City, Andalusia, Auburn, Camden, Chatom, Childersburg, Cullman, Decatur, Dothan, Eight Mile, Enterprise, Evergreen, Fayette, Florence, Gadsden, Greenville, Grove Hill, Guntersville, Hamilton, Heflin, Livingston, Loxley, Maplesville, Portable # 1, Russellville, Scottsboro, Selma, Thomason, Troy, Tuscaloosa, and Union Springs.

In 1953 supervision of the road camps was transferred from the State Highway Department to the Board of Corrections (BOC), however, the Highway Department retained authority for operations. In addition, the BOC was mandated with inspecting all county jails and those municipal jails of cities with populations of ten thousand or more people.

On September 30, 1954, there were a total of 5,004 state and county inmates on hand. Officers were paid a minimum salary of $156 per month and it had been recommended that the work week be reduced to 48 hours from 60 hours a week.

In 1960, Kilby Trusty Barracks was completed and had a capacity of 400 inmates. Other construction included most of the road camps’ wood framed buildings that were being replaced with modern concrete building that had indoor plumbing within the dormitories. Designed by the BOC, the typical capacity of a camp was 80 inmates, with the perimeter surrounded by a ten foot high wire fence with two towers overlooking the complex. Each camp had an infirmary for minor illnesses. The BOC received $55.90 per month per inmate from the Highway Department for inmate maintenance. The correctional officers during this time were paid $222 per month for a 48 hour work week.

Kilby Prison had become outdated and archaic without adequate inmate facilities, and the foundation and walls were cracking beyond repair. Originally on the outskirts of Montgomery, much of the prison property was being surrounded by a growing urban population. Commissioner Frank Lee recommended that Kilby and the surrounding farm acreage be sold and new facilities be constructed with the proceeds.

On June 24, 1964, the Frank Lee Youth Center was opened to house male offenders 21 or younger with a sentence of less than ten years. The Center had a capacity of 104 inmates.

In 1965, the death sentence process was declared unconstitutional and executions were stopped. In 1966, J. F. Ingram Vocational School was opened adjacent to the Frank Lee Youth Center. Trades that were taught included body repair, auto mechanics, brick masonry, upholstery, cabinet-making, and welding.

As planned in response to Kilby Prison’s continued deterioration, the Main Office moved to 101 South Union during Thanksgiving week of November 1968. To accommodate the inmates, during November of 1969, Holman Prison was completed. Named after William C. Holman, a former warden at Kilby, the maximum security unit housed all death row inmates and was designated by statute to be the location for all electrocutions. Then, in January of 1970, the Mt. Meigs Medical and Diagnostic Center (now known as Kilby) was opened. On January 21, 1970, all inmates had been removed from the inadequate and unserviceable Kilby Prison.

On April 3, 1972, Draper Pre-Release Center opened on Speigner Lake and began the current day work release program, starting with 7 employees supervising 23 male inmates and 2 females from Tutwiler. In June of 1972, #4 Camp was reopened as an honor camp to further expand the work release program (using converted chicken houses for barracks) and to reinitiate farming operations. The camp had been closed after Kilby’s prisoners had been reassigned and the BOC had stopped housing county misdemeanants. During this same period, 27 road camps closed leaving five in operation at Hamilton, Hollis, Troy, Grove Hill, and Elba. These closings created a tremendous overcrowded situation.

On July 31, 1972, a furlough program began which allowed selected inmates to have family sponsored visits at home. In December of 1972, the Atmore Work Release Center opened to expand the program in south Alabama.

In 1974, both the Alexander City and Childersburg Work Release Centers were opened coinciding with the closing of the last road camp.

In May of 1975, the Wetumpka Work Release Center for female inmates was opened.

On January 14, 1976, U. S. District Judge Frank Johnson Jr., placed the BOC under federal court order, ordering sweeping prison reforms under the Newman-Pugh-James joint cases. Responding in part to the overcrowded conditions, in March of 1976 work release centers were opened at Camden, Grove Hill, and Montgomery. Later in June, Elba was opened. Then in July, Hamilton Work Release Center was opened.

During April of 1977, work release centers were opened in Mobile and in Loxley. The Mobile Center, however, was relocated to Pritchard during May of 1978. A month later in June, a new prison, Staton Correctional Facility was completed and became operational.

On October 1, 1979, the BOC was abolished and the governor was authorized to appoint a commissioner who had overall control of the prison system.

In 1980 the Basic Training Academy at Selma became operational and implemented the first approved correctional minimum standard training required by statute. This eliminated the need for correctional officers to attend mandatory police minimum standard training. Also during August of 1980, the Brookley Work Release Center was opened in Mobile to meet the needs of the Mobile and south Alabama area.

During May of 1981, the Decatur Work Release Center was opened. On June 24, 1981, the site of the Hamilton Work Release Center was closed and moved to a newer, larger facility located in the same city. This shared facility also housed aged and infirmed inmates, creating the Hamilton Work Release/Aged & Infirmed Center. In November of 1981, the Staton Annex (later named Elmore Correctional Facility) was opened.

On November 1, 1982, the West Jefferson Correctional Facility (later named Donaldson CF) was opened.

On February 3, 1983, the Department of Corrections (DOC) was established by statute.

On April 22, 1983, the first execution since 1965 was conducted.

Also in April, the non-residential Supervised Intensive Restitution (SIR) program became operational by using the finances gained from closing the work release centers at Loxley, Grove Hill, and Childersburg. On June 1, 1983, the St. Clair Correctional Facility was opened.

East Thomas Community Based Facility opened during April 1984, and on August 9, 1984, the Fountain Trusty Barracks was completed and opened. Later, on October 22, 1984, the Limestone Correctional Facility was opened.

On August 10, 1985, the old Hamilton Work Release Center was reopened and the work release inmates from the Hamilton WR/A&I reassigned. This created needed bed space for the expanding aged and/or infirmed sub-population segment of the total inmate population.

During April of 1987 the Bullock Correctional Facility opened, containing the state’s first sex offender treatment program.

During September 1988, the boot camp program was initiated at Kilby CF but was later moved to its current location in Childersburg. Approximately a year later in October 1989, the Main Office at 101 South Union was closed and all central office functions scattered in Montgomery were consolidated together in the Gordon Persons Building at 50 North Ripley Street.

1990 was a particularly expansive year with Easterling Correctional Facility opening in March, Ventress CF in August which became the first prison dedicated to drug treatment, Loxley Community Work Center in October, and Childersburg Boot Camp & Community Work Center in November.

During January 1996, the General Office relocated from the Persons Building to renovated office space at 1400 Lloyd Street. At the same time, the Main Office reclaimed its previous 101 South Union Street facility.

During May 1998, the Bibb Correctional Facility opened.

Today’s Department offers employees ample career opportunities and advancements in corrections and other related fields. No longer a small organization, the Department has grown into a medium-size correctional system employing over 3,400 employees with an inmate population approaching 26,000+ prisoners. In the years to come, the Department will continue to grow in size, and in complexity of services, offering many long-term opportunities to its employees.

Source: Alabama Department of Corrections History