Prison Mess Halls Can Create Dangers For Officers


The recent death of an Alabama Corrections Officer has people looking for solutions. The funeral for Kenneth Bettis was yesterday. The 44-year-old CO died weeks after being attacked in the mess hall. That’s one of the most dangerous spots in any prison in the country.

One of the saddest parts of the death of Kenneth Bettis is the accusation that inmate Cleveland Cunningham attacked the corrections officer because Bettis wouldn’t give him an extra serving of French fries.

“They give them more of a feel of the outside world and it’s hard to mess up French fries,” said Former Corrections Officer at Holman Curt Stidham. Like a lot of CO’s he says the chow hall can be extremely dangerous. It’s a place where inmates can organize and gang up on outnumbered officers or each other.

“The younger inmates will jump in front of the older inmates and they feel like they’ve been disrespected, that brings on a fight,” said Stidham. That’s just one example. The chow hall is sort of like a microcosm of the prison itself. The Corrections Officer can sometimes be seen as the only person in the way of an inmate from getting what he or she wants.

“The only time you should be going into the mess hall especially when it’s active, is going in with a suited team and it’s an emergency response,” said the host of theCorrections talk show called Tier Talk Anthony Gangi. He’s also a columnist for the website CorrectionsOne. I spoke to him via FaceTime about mess hall difficulties.

“It’s two ends of a spectrum, it’s a vulnerable spot for an officer but it’s the strongest point for inmates,” said Gangi. Some prisons in New Jersey and a handful of other states have set up chow halls where corrections officers either watch from above or from in-house cameras and only step in when there’s a problem. Because of staffing issues in most prison systems, that’s not always possible. Gangi says corrections departments have to work together to find solutions.

“If you want to protect us just like we protect you then you’ve gotta help put laws into effect that make people think twice before putting a knife into an officer’s head,” said Gangi.

Governor Robert Bentley pushed a plan this year to build new prisons in Alabama but with little legislative or public support. Cleveland Cunningham is the inmate accused of stabbing officer Kenneth Bettis. He has since been charged with murder.

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