By Letitia Stein
, (Reuters) - Alabama has reached an agreement with U.S. civil rights officers to address sexual abuse at a state women's prison where an investigation found inmates were being raped, fondled and harassed by guards, officials said on Thursday.
Governor Robert Bentley announced the plan to reform Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in central Alabama, where federal investigators last year issued a report documenting conditions they called unconstitutional.
The U.S. Department of Justice found that inmates were living in fear for their safety in an environment where some were forced to perform sex acts to obtain basic sanitary supplies.
“Prisoners are entitled to be safe from sexual predation by staff, and to live in an environment free from sexual assault, sexual harassment and the constant fear of these abuses,” Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a statement.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has begun implementing changes at the prison, which can hold 975 inmates, including installing a surveillance camera system, according to Bentley.
“The issues at Tutwiler are not new, but our focus over the last three years has been to address them, ensuring the facility is a safe place for both inmates and staff," Bentley said in a statement.
Under the agreement, sexual harassment complaints by inmates are to be investigated and addressed promptly, according to Justice Department officials.
An independent monitor will review conditions at the prison to ensure compliance with the agreement, which was filed in U.S. court in the Middle District of Alabama.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)