It is a sad situation when the Alabama prison commissioner tells legislative budget committees that his boss's budget request may not be big enough to keep him out of jail.
State Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell faces the possibility of being held in contempt of court for failing to meet a judge's order to get state prisoners out of county jails in a timely fashion.
According to The Associated Press, Campbell told members of the legislative budget writing committees Wednesday that the $5 million budget increase for next year requested by Gov. Bob Riley would be enough to keep the prisons operating at current levels. But it would not be enough to add new beds, which would be necessary to substantially reduce the number of prisoners in county jails despite a court order to do so.
It's highly unlikely, although theoretically possible, that a judge would order the prison commissioner to jail. But just the possibility of it happening underscores the need for the state to address its entirely inadequate prison funding.
You know I usually enjoy the Advertiser Editorial's and they have been very good at giving coverage to the prison crisis. But this editorial is a real disappointment.
According to The Associated Press, Campbell told members of the legislative budget writing committees Wednesday that the $5 million budget increase for next year requested by Gov. Bob Riley would be enough to keep the prisons operating at current levels.
$5 Million dollars is exactly how much the state of Alabama spent to imprison 500 new prisoners for smoking pot in 2005.
But there is some hope on the distant horizon. Riley has proposed a series of sentencing reforms and new programs designed to reduce prisoner recidivism that could, given time to operate, help reduce the number of inmates.
Riley's bill includes increasing fines, longer sentences,and voluntary guidelines for judges. The voluntary guidelines are the only thing in the entire package that might have some positive effect....some years down the road. Not now.
WE NEED IT NOW!!
Riley's legislative proposals won't completely fix the problem of prison overcrowding; sooner or later the state is going to have to find funds to build and operate new prisons. But his reforms could help a lot.
Building more prisons is INSANE... Alabama incarcerates citizens at a rate five times higher than the national average. Building more prisons to stuff more people into is simply going to lead to more overcrowded prisons down the road.
There are over 7000 people in Alabama's prison system right now for drug related crimes. Recently, a judge who worked with the sentencing commission said that 80% of people in Alabama prisons are illiterate or have a drug problem.
What Alabama needs to do is change the laws that send so many people to prison.
We need to tax and regulate marijuana and use the revenue collected to start alcohol and drug treatment programs for people suffering from the medical condition known as addiction.
We need to invest money in community corrections programs for petty thieves, deadbeat parents and bad check writers.
We have alcoholics, people as harmless as Otis the town drunk from Andy Griffith, housed in prison with violent murderers and rapists at the cost of $1000 a month when we could place a breath-lock on their automobiles for around $30 a month.
We also have people in prison for petty theft.
Why should we have to pay $12,000 a year to house someone in prison who stole a $50 VCR? Stealing is wrong and should be punished, but the thief is the one who should be punished not the Alabama taxpayer.
We have deadbeat parents in Alabama's prison system. They won't pay for their children. They weren't forced to pay $12,000 a year in child support but we are forced to pay that to house them in prison.
We are being made to not only pay for the care of their children but also the cost for their care in the prison system. That punishes us. TWICE.
Surely we can come up with a more creative and productive way to handle these types of crimes than "build more prisons" and "lock'em up" when that has proved neither cost effective nor productive.