----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2003 11:16 PM
Subject: Commissioner says prison system is broken
Commissioner says prison system is broken
The Associated Press
5/6/03 3:03 PM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell told legislators Tuesday the state's prison system is so broken it will take years to fix it, even if he gets the $146 million in new funding he says the system needs next year.
Campbell told members of the Legislature's Joint Prison Oversight Committee that the system has twice as many prisoners as its buildings were designed to hold and needs at least 300 new officers to guard those inmates.
He said many of the inmates are housed in buildings that are falling apart because they were designed to house fewer people. He said sewer systems are overflowing and some kitchens operate almost 24 hours a day to try to feed everybody.
The problems facing Alabama prisons are among several crises facing the state as Gov. Bob Riley and lawmakers attempt to find revenue to fill what is expected to be more than $500 million in budget shortfalls.
Campbell told lawmakers that even if he gets all of the money he is asking for, his department has problems that will have to be dealt with for many years. The state is currently under a court order to relieve overcrowding at Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka and another to remove state prisoners from county jails.
"I'm just sitting here with my mouth wide open," said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, concerning the amount of money Campbell said is needed to start fixing the problem.
"We need everything," Campbell said. "We have weapons we are expected to use that are 40 plus years old in some cases."
Answering a question from Rogers, Campbell said there are no quick answers to the problem, like turning the state's prisons over to a private corrections company.
"This department has been neglected for a number of years and it's just caught up with us," said Campbell, named commissioner earlier this year by Riley.
Legislators told Campbell they were also worried about the system and promised to help, depending on how the budget crisis is resolved.
"It sounds to me like the system has just about collapsed," said Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, committee chairman.
Rep. Tommy Carter, D-Elkmont, told Campbell he was familiar with the problems at Limestone Correctional Facility in his district.
"The warden tells me he can't even cook chicken for that many people," Carter said.
Meanwhile, officials at the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles are suggesting one solution would be to convert five state mental health facilities into transition centers. These centers would treat and house criminals in six-month programs to help them adjust to life after prison or correct their ways before being sent to prison.
The board's executive director, Bill Segrest, told the Montgomery Advertiser the first center would be at the former site of the Glenn Ireland Development Center in Jefferson County, which closed in 1997.
The four others would be at mental health facilities the state plans to close in Decatur, Wetumpka, Mobile and Thomasville, Segrest said.
"What we know is there are a lot of people who come out of prison either on parole or at the end of their sentence who have absolutely nowhere to live," Segrest said. "No job, no means of support. So they are just basically dumped on the street. We know that is a recipe for a return to criminality and a return to the prison system."
Last month, Mental Health Commissioner Kathy Sawyer announced plans to close the mental health centers under a consolidation plan.
Segrest said the centers could house from 150 to 600 people at each site. He said it would cost about $2.8 million a year to operate a 400-bed center.
A spokesman for Riley said the governor will consider the recommendation.