According to lawsuits filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, the Alabama Department of Corrections and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have been accused of organ theft by the families of five inmates whose organs were harvested and stored without permission, CNN television reported.

The lawyer for the inmates' families claimed that the organs taken from deceased inmates without permission were used for educational purposes.

Prison Standards Expert Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein said of the organ harvesting in prisons, "There is no governance. This is the wild, wild west."

Brinkley-Rubinstein pointed to the uncertainty in the state's prisons on issues such as health and death, emphasizing that there are "no standards and no oversight" on who should have the right to dispose of a deceased inmate.

UAB officials claimed that the Director of the Department of Corrections is the only person authorized to perform autopsies on inmates who have died in prisons, without asking the inmates' relatives, and that the agreement between the two institutions gives them this authority.

"The authorization forms not only give permission for autopsies, but specifically include consent for the removal of organs or tissues for diagnostic or other tests, including final evaluation," the University of Alabama at Birmingham said in a statement.

Only the guard's signature is sufficient


An agreement between UAB, a long-established educational institution in Alabama, and the Department of Corrections for the use of inmates' organs has been in place since 2005 and only required the signature of a prison guard to authorize the removal of organs.

The seized autopsy authorization form was signed by a prison guard and stated, "I authorize the performance of an autopsy, including the removal of organs or tissues from the inmate for diagnostic or other tests, and their final disposal."

In one of the lawsuit files filed by prisoners' relatives, it was reported that the relevant department of the UAB received 23 percent of its annual revenue from autopsies performed in correctional institutions from 2006 to 2015, and that the Alabama Department of Corrections paid the university $2,200 per autopsy and $100 per toxicology test.

325 deaths reported in Alabama prisons in 2023

According to the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice reform advocacy group, a "record high (325) deaths" were reported in Alabama prisons in 2023.

The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative also reported that Alabama's men's prisons are among the "nation's deadliest correctional facilities," with the state's homicide rate in 2019 more than seven times the national average.

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Alabama prisons, which house more than 26,000 inmates, are under investigation by the US Department of Justice for failing to prevent violence and sexual abuse.