State must pay $2.4 million to relieve jails

02/15/03, The Birmingham News
STAN BAILEY News staff writer
MONTGOMERY A judge on Friday gave the state two weeks to pay $2.4 million from the sale of prison land in Atmore to help find space for hundreds of state convicts backlogged in Alabama's crowded county jails.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy granted a motion from county officials across Alabama to order the state to do what former Gov. Don Siegelman and his prison commissioner, Mike Haley, outlined in a plan hey filed in Shashy's court Sept. 12 but never carried out.
Shashy declared Haley in contempt of court last year for failing to remove about 2,000 state convicts from county jails across the state. Friday, he ordered the state to pay:
$750,000 to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to hire at least 10 new probation and parole officers to supervise nonviolent inmates paroled at special Thursday hearings of the board.
$350,000 to expand community corrections programs within the 20 counties of Alabama that have such programs.
$475,000 to open 200 mental health beds at Bullock and Donaldson correctional facilities.
$200,000 to renovate and operate the old East Thomas work-release camp in Jefferson County as a joint Department of Corrections and Department of Transportation work-release facility.
$160,000 to pay the Association of County Commissions of Alabama for part of its legal fees in connection with the jail crowding suit.
Shashy also ordered the state to pay the rest of the $2.4 million land-sale money on contempt-of-court fines that totaled $2.16 million last June and have been accumulating for months at the rate of $26 to $50 per inmate per day for each state convict remaining in a county jail longer than 30 days.
Shashy said if the entire $2.4 million from the land sale has not been paid as directed by his order within 14 days, the money then should be paid to the clerk of the Montgomery County Circuit Court to be disbursed by the court.
"We are reviewing the ruling," said David Azbell, press secretary to Gov. Bob Riley. "We will consult with attorneys from both the attorney general's office and the Department of Corrections and will make a decision on how to proceed."
After telling Shashy last year that the money would be spent according to the plan filed in court, Siegelman administration officials then said they couldn't spend it without prior approval of the Alabama Legislature. Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the prison system, said Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell and other prison officials favor the use of the land-sale money as outlined in the plan Haley and Siegelman filed.
"We are hopeful, as we always have been since we first put this plan before the court, that we would be able to use those funds as specified to the court," said Corbett.
Buddy Sharpless, executive director of the Association of County Commissions, said Shashy's order won't solve the jail crowding crisis but represents progress.
Alabama counties have spent at least twice as much as the $160,000 Shashy ordered paid to them for legal expenses over the past decade trying to get the state to pick up its inmates from county jails, Sharpless said. "It's not a long-range and permanent solution but a list of things that need to be done to help the problem," he said.