Bentley, Lawmakers Make Formal Request for Prison Overcrowding Study

Montgomery Advertiser

By Brian Lyman

Gov. Robert Bentley, Chief Justice Roy Moore and four lawmakers said Tuesday they had formally requested to be part of a federal program aimed at helping states cut corrections spending.

In a letter to the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program based out of the U.S. Department of Justice, the officials wrote that they were seeking an in-depth study of the state’s overcrowded prison system. The letter said lawmakers want “cost-effective, data-driven solutions to reducing our prison population.”

“Our state leaders recognize that we must collect and analyze criminal justice data to determine the root causes of prison population growth,” the letter said. “We must also develop policy options based on that data in order to both reduce our prison population and make our state safer.”

The Alabama Legislature in February passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, establishing a Prison Reform Task Force aimed at identifying the causes of overcrowding and understaffing in the state’s prisons, while proposing solutions.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a two-phase process, according to its website. In the first phase, JRI provides “nationally recognized criminal justice policy experts” to analyze a host of criminal justice data and identify potential savings. In the second, lawmakers implement the proposed solutions, and the state is eligible for funding to assist the process.

Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas said Tuesday he thinks it’ll be a few months before they know whether the state was selected. The program, he said, will look at Pardons and Paroles, sentencing, community corrections, drug courts, mental health courts and more.

“Ultimately, (Corrections) is going to benefit from it, but it’s not focused on correctional policies or practices,” Thomas said. “It’s much broader-ranged than that.”

There were 25,170 people serving time in the state’s prisons last December, in a system designed to house 13,318, a capacity of about 189 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. That month, there were nearly 12 inmates for every one corrections officer in the system.

In a report released earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that inmates at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka had been subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” after investigators found the state failed to protect them from sexual abuse and harassment by staff.