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Sound of Steel on Limestone Marks Return of Chain Gangs

August 22, 1995| Reuters

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — An Alabama prison resounded with the thud of heavy hammers on rock Monday as a policy of getting tough on criminals brought the return of rock-breaking chain gangs.

Three months after Alabama became the first state to revive chain gangs, 160 inmates, shackled together in leg irons, were put to work in the sweltering heat crushing limestone with sledgehammers.

The prisoners, from the Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw, raised 10-pound hammers in the air and brought them down with such force that bits of rock sprayed into onlookers.

"It don't stop no one from committing crimes. It creates hatred," said Andre Bates, a 28-year-old convicted of cocaine possession, as he wiped sweat from his brow. "I don't think it's right. It's just like slavery time."

Alabama's get-tough prison commissioner, Ron Jones, said the chain gangs, revived in May after being abandoned in the 1960s, turn rocks into gravel for state roads.

Jones, who has taken away inmate privileges such as TV, weight rooms and even coffee since he was appointed in January, describes the rock-breaking program as "our way of finding something meaningful for these inmates to do."

But government officials and other critics say the program is nothing short of brutality.

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