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Inmates Forced to Handle Used Syringes; other Hazardous Waste

Inmates working in Alabama Prison Recycling Center Forced to Handle Used Syringes; other Hazardous Waste. Lawsuit filed to Halt Inhumane and Unconstitutional Treatment.
ELMORE, ALABAMA -- Attorneys from the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a lawsuit today against Department of Corrections Commissioner Michael Haley and Earnest L. Harrelson, Warden of the Elmore Correctional Facility, and other officials at the Elmore Facility seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of present and future inmates of the Elmore Correctional Facility (Elmore). The prisoners are forced to labor without pay under severely unsanitary and dangerous conditions in the prison recycling center, sorting through hazardous waste materials often with little or no protective gear.

Inmates are required to pick through, on a regular basis, garbage consisting of dirty diapers, used tampons and sanitary napkins, urine specimen cups, used hypodermic needles, used intravenous bags and needles, razors, blood-soaked gauze and bandages, dead animals, rotten food infested with maggots, broken glass, laboratory test tubes and bottles containing bacteria and other specimens, containers with chemicals, jagged-edged open cans, and bags filled with materials labeled “biohazard.” The trash also contains discarded knives, prescription medicines, and alcoholic beverages.

The complaint filed today in Federal Court in Montgomery, Alabama states that the practices of the Elmore facility deprive inmates of the rights guaranteed to them by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Alabama law. Marion Chartoff, an attorney at SCHR representing the inmates states that, “Handling infectious materials without protective equipment can lead sickness and death. Many inmates have already been injured and showed symptoms of illness and others surely will if things do not change” Chartoff adds, “The conditions at Elmore threaten the general public as well since diseases can easily spread from the inmates to the outside world.”

The Elmore facility has also been operating for years without a permit from the Alabama Department of Public Health, a clear violation of Alabama law. Inmates receive no training on safety standards or proper protocol for handling the waste materials. The only protective gear they are provided with are thin latex gloves that are neither tear-resistant, nor impermeable to liquids and chemicals. Numerous inmates have been cut, lacerated, and stuck by used hypodermic needles, razors, broken glass and other sharp objects in the waste stream and some are forced to go back to work on the recycling lines without any medical attention. Exposure to human feces, blood and bodily fluids also pose serious risk of contracting bloodborne pathogens such as human immunodeficiency virus and Hepatitis A, B and C. Inmates regularly complain of dizziness, headaches, nausea, skin rashes and scabies from their handling of the garbage at Elmore.

Attorney Chartoff concludes, “The way the Elmore Recycling facility is run seriously endangers the health and safety of the inmates who work there. Forcing people to work under these conditions is simply irresponsible and inhumane.”

A copy of the Complaint is available by calling (404) 688-1202.

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