- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Department of Corrections said Friday that an inmate was stabbed to death at a state prison in Elmore County.

Department spokesman Bob Horton said 31-year-old inmate Johnny Lee Spears was stabbed to death Friday evening during a fight between two inmates at Elmore Correctional Facility.

Twenty-five-year-old inmate Latarian Martel Frison has been detained as a suspect. Frison is serving a 20-year sentence for second-degree robbery in Mobile County. Spears was serving a life sentence for murder.

Gov. Robert Bentley is calling the incident a reminder of the crisis inside the prison system.

“The violence is spiraling out of control and, left unaddressed, poses a major threat to public safety,” Bentley said in a statement. “The Prison Transformation Initiative is a good, common sense, plan to address the challenges in the prison system and make the system safer for corrections officers and inmates. We cannot continue to have incidents of violence like the stabbing tonight or the riots a few weeks ago.”

Four other incidents of violence have occurred this month in the state’s troubled prison system, which come under criticism for overcrowding and staffing level concerns.

An inmate was stabbed during a fight in a housing unit at the St. Clair Correctional Facility northeast of Birmingham on March 19. The stabbing came less than two weeks after a guard at the same facility was stabbed by an inmate while he tried breaking up a fight. An officer was also stabbed at St. Clair in November.

On March 11, inmates stabbed the warden and a corrections officer, lit fires, seized control of a dormitory, and tried to get into other areas of the maximum security prison. Some inmates posted photos and videos of the uprising to social media using cellphones that had been smuggled into the facility. Days later, inmates barricaded themselves inside a dormitory after another inmate was stabbed.

A total of eight inmates were killed by other inmates in 2015, according to the statistics. There were also 118 reported assaults with serious injuries to inmates, and 12 reported assaults with serious injuries to staff in fiscal year 2015.

Bentley has said he wants to build three new men’s prisons with a capacity of 4,000 inmates each and a women’s prison with a capacity of 1,200.

Bentley is asking lawmakers to approve an $800 million bond issue to build new prisons. The governor has said inmate violence and uprisings will likely continue if problems linked to overcrowding and outdated facilities are not addressed.

The medium custody prison in Elmore County houses 1,176 inmates in a facility originally designed for 600.

This story has been corrected to show the Department of Corrections is in Alabama, not Georgia and that the department released a statement Friday, not Sunday.

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