Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Counties want ruling on inmate backlog

File motion asking for prison commissioner to be held in contempt
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
News staff writer
The Birmingham News

Alabama counties asked a judge Tuesday to hold Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell in contempt of court because state prisoners are backing up in county jails in violation of a long-standing court order.

In response, Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy has ordered Campbell to appear in court Dec. 28 to show why he should not be held in contempt.

In their motion, the counties cite the growing numbers of state prisoners housed in county jails across the state, as the Department of Corrections has failed to transfer sentenced inmates to prisons within the 30 days required by previous court orders. As of Dec. 13, there were 823 state prisoners in county jails longer than 30 days, up from 225 in January.

The contempt motion was filed in a long-standing Barbour County case, in which a group of Alabama counties sued the state over the Department of Corrections' failure to transfer sentenced prisoners to state lockups. Several times over the years, sheriffs and county commissions have complained they're being forced to pay for housing thousands of prison-ready inmates, and the courts have been asked to work out solutions between the state and the counties.

In September, representatives of the counties sent a letter to Gov. Bob Riley asking the governor to intervene and reduce the number of prisoners in local jails.

"Communication between the counties and the Governor's Office over reducing this number proved fruitless," attorneys for the counties wrote in Tuesday's motion.

New prisoners:

DOC officials say the problem is not that prisons are not accepting inmates, but that new inmates are pouring into the system from the courts faster than the crowded prisons can find room for them.

State prisons have found room for 1,035 new prisoners in the past month. Yet that has reduced the numbers of state prisoners in county jails longer than 30 days by only four, said DOC spokesman Brian Corbett.

The DOC for several years has asked the Legislature for money for prison construction and been turned down.

A special parole board appointed by Riley helped reduce the prison population from an all-time high of 28,440 in 2003 to 26,500 in late 2004. But paroles slowed, and the Legislature for two sessions has failed to pass sentencing reform proposals that would slow prison admissions.

As a result, the prison population has climbed to 27,500, Corbett said.

Most prisons are at double capacity, and the only space available is in work release or work centers, which are limited to low-security inmates, he said.


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