By Beth Shelburne, Investigative Reporter, Campaign for Smart Justice
On Sunday, the brother of Christopher Hurst says he received a phone call from a Captain at Fountain Correctional Facility who said his brother had died from an apparent drug overdose. Christopher Hurst, who family called Chris, had been incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) for 14 years. He was 37-years old.
His family is stunned by the news of his death. Chris’s grandmother and brother had each spoken to him on the phone in the days before his death and both say Chris gave no indication that something was wrong.
ADOC did not respond to requests for confirmation of Hurst’s death.
Greg Hurst says his brother died in solitary confinement. He wonders how Chris accessed illegal drugs while he was in isolation 23 hours a day, with correctional officers being his only human contact. Chris had struggled with opioid addiction in the past.
“I’m not saying my brother is a saint, but no human being needs to be treated that way,” said Greg Hurst.
Chris told Greg that Fountain Correctional did not have enough beds for all the men, so some were forced to sleep on the floor and in bathrooms. According to Greg, Chris was sent to solitary confinement after arguing with a man who tried to steal his bunk. He told Greg that after he refused to give up his bed, the man retaliated by stabbing him in the hand while another man hit him in the head with a weapon.
“So, they hit Chris with a disciplinary which landed him in solitary, but they didn’t do anything to the guys that actually stabbed him and hit him with a padlock,” said Greg Hurst.
Chris’s grandmother, Clara Headley, says her grandson called her the week prior to wish her a happy birthday. She says his crimes were drug-related, but in recent years he had turned his life around.
“They need to find out where them drugs are coming from,” Ms. Headley said. “Chris told me there’s more drugs in there than there is out here.” Ms. Headley then began sobbing. “Something needs to be done. This has to stop.”
Alabama’s “correctional” system is in a state of crisis. Prisons continue to be full of addictive substances, despite ADOC’s recent increase in shakedowns and K-9 searches.
Chris Hurst was excited about his future. He would have been considered for parole in 2020 and he planned to work for Greg’s construction company.
Instead, he leaves behind a grieving family and community with many unanswered questions about his death.
As Governor Kay Ivey’s study group convenes this afternoon to discuss prison conditions, we hope they think of Chris Hurst and his family. His death points to the dire and deadly urgency of the crisis. Families and communities across our state have been devastated by these preventable deaths that occurred while they served time in a system that should have kept them safe.
Every day that the overcrowding, violence, and drugs go unaddressed by our state leaders, thousands of Alabama lives continue to be in danger.
We have to do better than this. Christopher Hurst should not be dead.
Beth Shelburne is an investigative reporter for the Campaign for Smart Justice with the ACLU of Alabama. @bshelburne