Birmingham City Jail
- This article is about the municipal jail. For other uses, see Birmingham Jail.
The blues song "Birmingham Jail" became popular in the mid-1920s and was famously recorded by Jimmie Tarlton and Tom Darby in 1927. Tarlton was invited to the dedication ceremony for the new city jail at the present Southside site, which was completed in 1937.
An anonymous letter purportedly from a young Communist Party worker was published in several newspapers in 1930. The writer alleged sexual harassment, rape, mistreatment, brutal beatings and deadly forced labor was rampant in the facility.
During the 1963 Birmingham Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement, demonstrators coordinated by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference attempted to "fill the jails" as a form of peaceful protest against segregation laws they considered unjust. Police officials, under the direction of Birmingham City Commissioner Bull Connor detained demonstrators at numerous alternative locations, including Fair Park.
One of those arrested was SCLC leader Martin Luther King Jr, who was brought to the jail on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. Veteran guard Leon Medlock supervised his stay. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, composed for the most part during that incarceration, became a touchstone document for the movement, answering critics who would prefer to seek justice through the courts rather than by demonstrating before the public conscience.
Fuller & Thompson Architects designed renovations and additions to the jail that same year. The expansion provided an administrative center for Birmingham Police Department operations that was used until the new Birmingham Police Headquarters on 1st Avenue North opened in 1996.
Overcrowding at state prisons in the 1970s led to thousands of inmates having to serve their sentences at municipal and county jails. The American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project filed a class action suit which named the Birmingham City Jail as among those which were housing state prisoners without adequate facilities. Judge Sam Pointer Jr issued an order requiring jail officials to house no more than 36 inmates per dormitory and to improve lighting, ventilation and basic sanitation services for inmates.
In 1985 Police chief Arthur Deutsch proposed building a new jail. Most of the 1937 building was demolished in 1986, except for administrative offices which remained in use during construction. Administrative Staff Commander William Gaut supervised the construction project, and worked with Lee Hitchcock to develop new jail policies and train staff in cooperation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Major Frank Alexander, a former military prison warden, was hired to oversee operations.
The 1994 beating death of Donald Deason in his cell prompted accusations that he had been placed in harm's way as intentional retribution for alleged racial remarks made during his arrest for assault.
In February 2012 Birmingham mayor William Bell, Police Chief A. C. Roper and Sheriff Mike Hale reached an informal agreement to move Birmingham detainees to the Jefferson County Jail in downtown Birmingham. The arrangement would allow the city to end jail operations while providing funding for the county to begin using the newly-built facilities of the Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center for county inmates.
At the time that it was closed, the Birmingham City Jail provided GED preparation and literacy classes, drug and alcohol treatment programs, mental health treatment, domestic violence intervention and life skills classes to detainees.
At the suggestion of Alabama Department of Tourism director Lee Sentell, the 2012 Class of Leadership Birmingham sponsored the erection of a historical monument at the site of the vacant jailhouse. The monument was dedicated in April, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the drafting of King's famed letter.
- George Bodeker, Warden 1890s
- Earl Wilson, –1939
- John Davenport, 1939–1945
- Fred Dampier, acting 1947–1949
- Arthur Curl, 1947–1960
- Frank Alexander, 2003
- Kathy Davis, –2012
- Kevin Davis, 2016–
- Graydon Newman, Chief Administrator 2020
- "Beat Naked Girls in Dixie Jail" (November 8, 1930) The Afro-American
- Miller, Howard (April 22, 1978) "Motion seeks removal of state inmates". The Tuscaloosa News
- "Family blames guards at jail for fatal beating of 'good man'. (November 7, 1995) Associated Press
- White, David (February 9, 2012) "Informal agreement reached to open Bessemer county jail, Sheriff Mike Hale says." The Birmingham News
- Whitmire, Kyle (February 8, 2013) "Putting a mark on history: Alabama Tourism Dept., Leadership Birmingham to erect historical marker at the Birmingham Jail." The Birmingham News
- Birmingham City Jail at birminghamal.gov