As Prison Populations Rise Nationwide, Alabama and Other States Tackle Reform

The Birmingham News

By Casey Toner

A national group that is helping Alabama tackle prison reform is working to reduce prison overcrowding in Nebraska and Washington.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center issued a report stating that Nebraska can reduce its overcrowding by sentencing more nonviolent felons to probation, and finding prison alternatives for people who would otherwise be sentenced to less than a year in prison or jail, according to the report.

About one-third of Nebraska’s prison admissions are for people sentenced to a year or less, and these sentences have increased by 30 percent during the past decade.

At the same time, crime is down in Nebraska while the state’s inmate population is up 17 percent. There are 5,130 inmates in facilities designed for 3,275. The Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Working Group, chaired by Gov. Dave Heineman, is set to develop a plan based on the report’s findings and recommendations.

Washington’s prison system is over capacity and will need space for 1,400 new inmates by 2024, according to a CSG Justice Center report. Crime in Washington, however is down 10 percent since 1990,

A third of Washington inmates are in prison for lower-level offenses. People convicted of a felony in Washington are more likely to spent time in jail or prison rather than under probation-like supervision.

Washington’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force is set to reconvene this month to work on potential legislation based in large part on the CSG Justice Center’s findings.

The CSG Justice Center issued a report to the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force last month. The group showed that Alabama judges are sending fewer people to prison, but prisons remain at almost twice their capacity regardless.

Alabama has about 26,000 inmates in prisons designed for just more than 13,000. The prison system cost the general fund more than $373.5 million in 2012.