The prison that houses Alabama's death row is on lockdown following a riot that saw the facility's warden and a guard stabbed, and at least one fire set by inmates, who used contraband cell phones to document the mayhem on social media.
The uprising began late Friday night at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility, a 1,031-bed facility about 50 miles north of Mobile in the city of Atmore. A large contingent of Holman inmates are serving life without parole, and there are 168 cells set aside for death row inmates, who are executed on site at the state's only death chamber.
The Alabama Department of Corrections said in a statement that around 100 inmates were involved in the melee, which began with a fight in a dormitory. A guard was stabbed when he tried to detain one of the inmates, the statement said. Warden Carter Davenport was also stabbed when he and other corrections officers attempted to intervene. Neither of the stab wounds were life threatening.
The state deployed three emergency response teams to quell the revolt, which was confined to a housing unit of the prison, according to local reports. Officials from Holman declined to comment about the current state of affairs at the prison when reached by VICE News on Saturday afternoon.
In video footage posted online, inmates could be seen roaming through the prison at will. "It's going down in this bitch," one inmate said in a video that was posted to Facebook. The footage showed a small fire being tended by another inmate waving what appears to be a makeshift sword.
Several other inmates took to social media while the riots were going on, with some imploring the public to help rescue them.
A similar riot erupted at the prison in 2011 after an altercation between a guard and an inmate over a contraband cell phone. Inmates took control of an entire dorm and refused to comply with a team of corrections officers that arrived in riot gear.
Holman, like many other prisons in Alabama, is chronically overcrowded. According to a 2006 documentary series called LockUp, the institution is known among inmates as "The Slaughterhouse," the "House of Pain," and the "Slaughter Pen of the South" because of the frequent stabbings that occur there. Last April, a 67-year-old inmate named Lawrence Utley was fatally stabbed at Holman.
Alabama's correctional facilities are designed to house a total of 13,318 inmates, but, according to the state's most recent data, there were 24,770 prisoners locked up as of January 2015.
In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed a federal lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections for consistent failure to address the medical and mental health needs of its inmate population, as well as discrimination against prisoners with disabilities.
A damning SPLC report assessed the various ways in which inmates were being mistreated in Alabama prisons, and discovered that untreated hepatitis C is a rampant problem. Only four out of the 2,144 prisoners with hepatitis C were found to be receiving treatment. A prisoner at Holman died from complications of hepatitis C after not receiving treatment, while other reports out of Holman said several untreated inmates became jaundiced as their livers started to fail due to progression of the disease.
The report also found that Alabama prisons were woefully ill equipped to treat mental health problems, and had just a fraction of the recommended number of psychologists on staff.
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen