Yellowhammer File 2: How Skeleton Staffing Makes Alabama Prisons Lethal

Yellowhammer File 2: How Skeleton Staffing Makes Alabama Prisons Lethal

Scene of Stephone Lyon Marshall's murder at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama

Stephone Lvon Marshall died on May 16, 2023 at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. He was killed, stabbed in the neck. Marshall’s murder might have been prevented. It’s unclear whether anyone will ever know since the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) isn’t being truthful about his death.

According to eyewitness Eddie Ward, Marshall and his aggressor engaged in four to five separate standoffs, one lasting about 30 minutes, the day before the murder. Marshall was armed with a broken mop stick and the other man held a knife. The guard on duty witnessed these conflicts and did nothing to break them up or separate them.

“If an officer had stepped in on any of these occasions, the circumstances would have been different. The outcome would have been different,” Ward said.

Eddie Ward

ADOC told the Montgomery Advertiser that Marshall “was found by corrections officers with injuries” and “was taken to the prison’s health care unit for emergency treatment.”

Those statements are not entirely true.

According to Ward, Marshall wasn’t found. After Marshall was stabbed, he went to a door to try to get out of the unit to get help. But no officer was on that side of the dorm at that point. Instead, said Ward, he was chatting with a female officer on the other side of the dorm.

The men in the dorm beat on “the cube” (it’s like a station with a window within a prison housing unit) until a guard came back. That officer opened the door for Marshall who stumbled out to another area, where nurses had been summoned by radio. One of the nurses fell trying to address his wounds.

Ward says there was a delay in getting Marshall substantive medical attention because keys to a transport van couldn’t be found.
When questioned about the missing van keys, the Alabama Department of Corrections issued a standard reply:

“The ADOC Law Enforcement Services Division is thoroughly investigating the death of inmate Stephone Lvon Marshall. The agency cannot comment about ongoing investigations.”

But the department continued:

“However, we can confirm that an officer was present in the dorm at the time of the incident and there was no issue with finding van keys.”

There was in fact such an issue with keys that Marshall was loaded into a guard’s personal vehicle and driven to a helicopter which took off and then landed in the same spot because Marshall had already died.

It bears pointing out that the department did, in fact, comment on an ongoing investigation by saying that there was no issue with van keys. But that official comment is suspect; Ward and other witnesses did tell investigators about the missing keyring. This evidence should appear in reports. As the investigation closes, it will be important to note what’s included, if anyone ever gets to see a final report.

Moreover, in its statement, ADOC admitted that the unit was understaffed. Having one officer in C-1 Dorm at Elmore is patently inadequate, even when he’s in the dorm. That building houses 198 men.

For comparison, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the average ratio of inmates to guards in state prisons was 4.9 to 1. In 2020, the federal Bureau of Prisons considered a ratio higher than 15 to 1 to be a staffing crisis. The ratio in that dorm on May 16, was thirteen times higher than numbers that alarm federal officials.

A number of sources who are confined at Elmore have told me there’s no medical office or resources at the prison, not even an infirmary. The ADOC has declined to comment on the existence of medical resources at that particular facility. Because Elmore Correctional Facility was once known as the Staton Annex, it uses the Staton Correctional Facility’s medical resources which are approximately a mile down the road.

The problem is that four people have died at Elmore in 2023 alone. That’s why the transport van’s availability is key here. Providing medical care for anyone in Elmore requires a car or van trip.

Ward himself was stabbed on April 12, 2023. A female officer witnessed the attack and shouted “stop it!” several times but didn’t use her pepper spray until Ward successfully fought off his attacker and then she sprayed both Ward and the man who cut him. He waited 20 minutes before they transported him to Jackson Hospital in Montgomery.

No word on where the car keys were that day.

Chandra Bozelko served more than six years in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent. Her work has earned several professional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, The National Federation of Press Women and more.Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

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