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Homicides and drug deaths are on the rise at one Alabama prison.

According to reports, 60-year-old Joseph Paul Mitchell was found dead by correctional officers in a communal area of Donaldson Correctional Facility on Sunday night. The Jefferson County coroner told media investigators that there is no evidence of foul play.

Homicides and drug overdose deaths in the facility have been increasing, according to a report by WKRG. Six people have died at Donaldson so far in 2022, predominantly from homicide. 

According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), at least 14 people have been killed in Alabama prisons since January, though it claims that number is “almost certainly an undercount.” 

In 2020, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama concerning poor prison sanitation, violence between inmates, excessive force from staff and sexual assault.

Since the DOJ began its investigation in 2016, at least 78 prisoners have been killed.

Drug deaths are also increasing. Twelve inmates in Jefferson County died from a drug overdose this year, mainly from drugs like fentanyl and meth. Some of the deceased were prisoners at Donaldson.

Drugs in Alabama prisons are nothing new.

In a 2019 report, the DOJ said it believed the ADOC was harming prisoners by allowing illegal drugs inside the prisons. They cited an incident on a Friday in September 2017, where officers at Ventress Correctional Facility performed a pat down search on a prisoner only to find 17 cigarettes laced with drugs and two bags, one of meth and another filled with a hallucinogenic known as "cookie dough." 

On the following Tuesday, officers at Ventress found 12 plastic bags of an unknown substance, 79 cigarettes laced with drugs, two bags of "cookie dough" and another bag of meth.

Yet another example included an incident at Bibb Correctional Facility where a prisoner high on drugs stabbed another prisoner in the back in August 2017. In April 2018, a Donaldson prisoner was discovered to be "likely under the influence of narcotics" when he was taken to the hospital for stab wounds.

The DOJ said illegal drugs in Alabama prisons were "highly prevalent" and accused the ADOC of being "unable or unwilling to prevent the introduction and presence of drugs in its prisons."

It appears the prevalence of controlled substances in prisons remains an issue. In a quarterly report ending on March 31, 2022, the ADOC reported almost 60 pounds of illicit drugs were confiscated from Alabama prisons from January to March of this year.

In a statement to 1819 News, the ADOC said there are other factors contributing to the number of deaths in Alabama prisons, including COVID-19-related deaths and an aging prison population.

“Despite the department’s ongoing initiatives to reduce the presence of contraband, offenders continue to find creative ways to package and introduce illicit drugs into the facilities, which increases the risk of overdose,” a spokesperson from the ADOC said. “Further, at times, new inmate populations may be disproportionally violent. Like other law enforcement agencies, the ADOC is working diligently to improve the safety and security within its facilities.”

The spokesperson also said that the ADOC and its healthcare services vendor investigate every inmate death.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email will.blakely@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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