WETUMPKA, AL (WBRC) - What goes on behind the walls of Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women? If you believe the U.S. Department of Justice, the Tutwiler staff has harmed women in their care with impunity by raping, fondling, harassing and coercing prisoners for sex in exchange for basic supplies and they've done it for decades.
But Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas still maintains the sexual abuse cases at Tutwiler are "very isolated" and believes the DOJ report was off the mark in a number of places.
"But I don't want to tit for tat and go through each specific instance where I disagree with them, I would much rather spend the time engaging with them on the positive reforms that we've taken place, developing a very positive relationship with them and making sure they understand that we take our responsibilities very seriously," Thomas said.
Thomas says he's focused on recent reforms at Tutwiler, including improving investigations into staff misconduct, getting compliant with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and adding to prison security, including surveillance cameras.
Thomas says he doesn't think the coverage of the Tutwiler investigation has been fair "because there's a lot of misinformation out there." But he wouldn't elaborate on specific misinformation.
He did say he talks to inmates and has never heard directly about unsafe conditions or sexual abuse.
And despite public outcry about a slow and lackluster response to the crisis, Commissioner Thomas points to his 2012 decision to bring in the National Institute of Corrections for an audit, calling it "bold and courageous."
Thomas says he's pleased by ADOC's response to the audit.
"I think we've been very, very proactive from the very beginning and we're going to continue to be. Is it perfect? No. Is any correctional facility perfect? No. Is any jail across America perfect? No. But we are going to strive and work together and keep our chins up and be proud of what we've accomplished and continue to address problems when they're identified," he said.
During the interview, FOX6 News wanted to know why our requests to tour the prison over the last two years have been denied.
"Well I think, it's not a matter of denying requests, there will be opportunities and there were opportunities….There will be opportunities for the media to get access because I have nothing to hide," Thomas said.
FOX6 News will hold the commissioner to his word and hope to bring you a report from inside Tutwiler in the very near future.