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2 inmates killed within a week in state prisons

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Two inmates were killed within a week in reported assaults in Alabama prisons, a system that is facing a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over excessive violence.

Kristi Simpson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, confirmed the deaths and said they are under investigation.

The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office said a 31-year-old inmate died Monday morning after a reported assault at Donaldson Correctional Facility. The Alabama Department of Corrections identified the man as Kenneth Gilchrist.

Gilchrist “unfortunately passed away from injuries sustained during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault with a weapon,” Simpson wrote in an email. The coroner’s office said the assault occurred in the prison’s common area.

She said Travis Hutchins, a 34-year-old inmate at Bibb Correctional Facility, died Thursday of injuries from another inmate-on-inmate assault involving a weapon.

Both deaths are under investigation by the Alabama Department of Corrections’ Law Enforcement Services Division, Simpson said. She said the exact causes of death are pending the results of full autopsies.

Gilchrist was serving a 25-year sentence for a first-degree burglary conviction. Hutchins was serving a 20-year sentence for a murder conviction.

When Hutchins was an inmate at Easterling Correctional Facility in 2016, he filed a lawsuit against the warden, assistant warden and two correctional officers over injuries he suffered in another assault, reported.

The U.S. Department of Justice last year filed a lawsuit against Alabama accusing the the state of failing to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

The lawsuit alleged that conditions in the prison system — which the Justice Department called one of the most understaffed and violent in the country — were so poor that they violated the ban on cruel and unusual punishment and that state officials were “deliberately indifferent” to the problems.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has acknowledged problems in state prisons, but disputes the Justice Department’s accusations.

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