Earlier this month, an inmate serving life without parole for multiple homicides caught extra charges after going live on Facebook wearing a correctional officer's vest, holding a handgun and ranting about prison conditions.

The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office charged inmate Derrol Shaw with first-degree escape, promoting prison contraband, possessing contraband certain individuals are not allowed to have and terroristic threats.

But what exactly would happen to Shaw if found guilty?

1819 News asked Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Cam Ward on Tuesday what happens to inmates already serving life without parole who catch extra charges while behind bars.

Ward clarified that all prisoners charged with a crime while already in prison go on trial for entirely new crimes.

"If you're life without, it doesn't matter," Ward said. "They're going to give you life without plus one more life without is what they're going to do. That's about all you can do to them. That's why oftentimes, your violence inside the walls gets so bad is they know for a fact that they're life without."

He said that, for this reason, prosecutors usually don't like to spend much time trying these sorts of cases. 

"You do get charged with a whole new crime, though," Ward added.

He suggested corrections officers could handle the prison population better if troublesome prisoners could be segregated from the rest. Though Donaldson is a maximum security prison, some inmates there have an opportunity for parole and are serving time with those who do not.

And since Donaldson is already a maximum security prison, troublesome inmates cannot be moved to a higher security facility. A prisoner can be moved to death row, but that depends on the new crime's severity and the trial's outcome. However, prison personnel can place them in what Ward called a "seg unit," or solitary confinement.

1819 News contacted the ADOC for comment about prison discipline for inmates serving life without parole. A spokesperson referred to the Male Prisoner Handbook, which is available online.

According to the handbook, three levels of behavior citations can be issued to male inmates: low, medium and high. High-level rule violations are crimes such as homicide, assault or inciting a riot, whereas low-level violations are activities such as gambling or possessing contraband. 

Authorized sanctions for high-level rule violations include loss of good time, custody review, loss of privileges for up to 60 days, extra duty for up to 60 days, a job change, financial compensation (for property damage) and loss of six months of visitation privileges (only in the case of possessing a cell phone).

High-level offenders can also be placed in a "seg unit" for up to 45 days.

"They can do that, but outside of that, that guy with life, he's just going to get more life," Ward explained. "... The way those buildings are made, they're so old, it's hard to segregate them into a smaller population. What you want to do with someone who's creating all those problems is segregate them."

Nevertheless, Ward said it's not always those serving life without parole that cause the most problems. 

"[The older prisoners serving life without parole] are not really your problem," he explained. "It's your gang violence and your younger folks who come in, and they may be life without, but a bunch of them are life with possibility. In my opinion, the people who commit the burglaries, the gun violence on the outside, petty crimes or property, stealing stuff and [deal with] drug addictions, that is where your biggest dangers come from inside the prisons. It's not your older guys who've been there for 40 years. It's the younger gang violence people."

Ward said the biggest challenge the ADOC faces is severe understaffing. In February, a federal judge claimed the prison system had lost over 500 employees over the previous 18 months. 

ADOC commissioner John Hamm had already indicated the previous August that the ADOC was struggling to hire security officers, drug treatment counselors, stewards and administrative staff. The ADOC increased correctional officer pay by 51.9% in March to attract recruits.

"I don't know how you fix that because it's going to cost a whole lot of money, but they are severely understaffed," he elaborated. "They're trying to address that over there the best way they can, but at the same time, that is a big core problem."

The ADOC is under intense scrutiny from federal regulators and the general public. 

In 2020, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama concerning poor prison sanitation, violence between inmates and excessive force from staff, and sexual assault. The lawsuit resulted from a multi-year investigation conducted by the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern districts of Alabama.

Several prison officials were charged with bringing in contraband and accepting bribes in 2022. Other ADOC employees were charged with assaulting inmates.

According to a 2019 DOJ report, the ADOC demonstrated an "inability to control the flow of contraband into and within the prisons." The ADOC does not report overdoses and even canceled monthly reports on inmate deaths late last year.

In response to the DOJ lawsuit, the Alabama Legislature approached $1.3 billion in 2021 for the ADOC to build two new 4,000-bed mega prisons. Though the plan faced political and economic obstacles, it secured a $509 million bond deal last year. 

However, the estimated cost for one of the prisons increased by over 50% in March, upsetting some lawmakers. The ADOC is yet to set a final price.

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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