----- Original Message ----- 
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney 
To: PATRICK Crusade 
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2003 2:25 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Alabama prisons in critical condition

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Alabama prisons in critical condition 

by Dylan Osborne
Managing Editor
June 23, 2003 

The Alabama Department of Corrections is in dire need of help. There are not enough beds to go around or enough guards to safely watch over the thousands of inmates currently locked up in Alabama prisons and the situation is getting worse. 

The problem is not just one for the prisoners themselves. This is not a case of prisoners complaining about food or cable television or equipment to work out with. The problem affects taxpayers across the state who have to pay to feed and house prisoners, as well as pay to defend the state in lawsuits brought about because of the overcrowding. And the lawsuits are not just coming from prisoners and their families, but by counties that can not get the state to pick up prisoners in county jails that do not belong there. Over 1,300 prisoners are in county jails because the state does not have room for them. Some prisoners are being shipped out of state to private prisons and emergency funds have been released to speed up the parole docket, but this is too little, too late.

Alabama should have built more prisons years ago. Alabama should have shifted more towards community corrections years ago. Now prison overcrowding can no longer be ignored.

In 2002 the DOC commissioned Carter Goble Associates, Inc. to study the problems facing Alabama prisons and develop a 10 year plan to deal with whatever issues the group found. The results are staggering. 

Statewide staffing deficiencies for the DOC are between 20 and 25 percent. According to the master plan developed by CGA the security staff is undermanned by at last 15 percent, the inmate personal services 20 percent, and programs, treatment and social services are between 30 and 40 percent understaffed. There is no way the needs of 28,000 inmates can be met with such an understaffed work force.

CGA also recommended raising the base salary of $23,00 for correctional officers and requiring more than a GED. A better educated work force is always a great idea, but the salary must be higher to attract quality workers.

However, prisoners need to be placed somewhere other than already over crowded prisons.

The 10-year plan called for more prisons to be built, but the cost of the two-stage plan would be hundreds of millions of dollars. That is money Alabama doesnít have. But CGA also recommended moving 2,100 of
Alabamaís nearly 30,000 prisoners into community corrections. It costs just $2,000 per year for a prisoner to be held in community corrections, opposed to $9,000 per year for room and board in an actual prison. Not only would money be saved and prison space freed for violent criminals not eligible for work release, probation or other options, but the community would also be saved from having to deal with a prisoner after release. A person that has been incarcerated for several years has a very hard time becoming a productive citizen once
on the outside and 90 percent of Alabama prisoners will be back in their communities at some point. To head off potential conflicts in the future, prison should be a last resort. 

The CGA study names prison overcrowding again and again as the number one priority for the corrections system and repeatedly names community corrections as the easiest solution as well. Only 20 of Alabamaís 67 counties currently have such programs in place. Not only do the other 47 counties need programs, CGA also recommends expanding the programs in Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery, areas that account for close to 40 percent of Alabama inmates. 

Education must be addressed as well. Not prisoner education, although those programs need funding too, but public schools have to be improved to help keep people out of trouble in the first place. The best long-term solution is a better-educated population, with better employment opportunities

Growing at a rate of 100 inmates a month, the Alabama DOC is getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Money will inevitably have to be thrown at the problem and more prisons will have to be built. But the best solution, at least short-term, is to place non-violent offenders into community programs. The cost is lower, beds are made available in state prisons, the county jails are freed from the burden of state inmates (which the state does pay for) and petty criminals are not hardened in prison and sent back out into Alabama cities. 

                                          Alabama prisons in critical condition 

In addition to Alabama ignoring the recommendations of experts regarding alternative programs such as community services (restitution), Alabama DOC officials continually perpetuate an enlargement of crime because of continued abuse to prisoners (retribution). Retribution over Corrections is a waste of taxpayer's money and it makes our streets more dangerous than they have ever been. P.A.T.R.I.C.K. Crusade challenges the Alabama Department of Corrections to lift the ban on the press so that the public can see where its money is really going. If the DOC has nothing to hide, if it is doing everything right, if it is not abusing its prisoners, if it is not creating "better criminals", then why not allow the press inside to report on what society is are paying for? 

Sherry Swiney
Founder P.A.T.R.I.C.K. Crusade
Alabaster, Alabama

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