New head tapped for state prisons

 Ex-Tennessee penal chief Campbell named 

01/23/03, Birmingham News

News staff writer

MONTGOMERY Tennessee's prison commissioner for eight years, Donal Campbell, is moving south to oversee Alabama's crowded prisons, Gov. Bob Riley said Wednesday. "My search for the best and brightest to help improve
Alabama doesn't stop at her borders and, thankfully, I convinced Donal Campbell to move to Montgomery and overhaul our state's troubled prison system," Riley said. 

Campbell will make $91,000 a year, $1,000 a year less than he made in Nashville. He will start work next week. 

Campbell said Alabama needs more money to improve its prison system. The state's prisons house almost twice as many inmates as they were designed to hold and have about twice as many inmates per prison officer as the
Southeastern average. 

He said the need for more bed space is critical. "I think we're in a crisis to bring on more beds more quickly," he said. 

Campbell said Alabama has already cut costs to the bone. "I don't think there's any money that can be saved in Alabama," he said. 

Neither Campbell nor Riley estimated how much more money Alabama's prisons need. Riley said he has asked Campbell to do a statewide survey to help get an answer. 

Cost estimates rise: 

Mike Haley, prison commissioner since 1999 under Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, said state prisons need $350 million a year from the state General Fund, about 75 percent more than this year's $201 million. 

Much of the extra money would go for building repairs, hiring more guards and building a new women's prison. 

A federal judge last month ruled that Alabama's prison for women is unconstitutionally unsafe because of crowding and understaffing. 

Campbell, 51, started work in Tennessee's prison system in 1977 as a corrections officer and worked up the ranks, serving as a warden from 1985 to 1989 and a regional administrator from 1989 to 1995. 

He became prison commissioner in 1995 under Republican Gov. Don Sundquist and left Saturday when Tennessee's new Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, took office and replaced Campbell and about 20 other state
department heads. 

At least two people turned down Riley before Campbell agreed to be Department of Corrections commissioner. 

Asked why he wanted to oversee a prison system facing so many challenges, Campbell said he asked himself, why not? 

Tennessee this year plans to spend about three times what Alabama spends per inmate, or more than $27,000 compared to Alabama's $9,200, according to state records and Riley's staff. 

Study privatization: 

Campbell said Alabama should study whether to contract with a private company such as Corrections Corp. of America to house some of its inmates. He said a company might be better able than the state, which faces a budget crunch, to pay for building new prisons. 

He said private prisons in Tennessee house about 4,500 of the state's 18,000 inmates. 

"I think there's a place for privatization. Each state has to make its own assessment. It has worked well in Tennessee," Campbell said, adding that he wasn't talking about having a company take over an existing
state prison. 

Riley cautioned that privatization is just an idea he wants to explore to see if it would make sense in Alabama. 

Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, which represents more than 15,000 state employees, including prison officers, said privatization has failed in Tennessee and

"We would strongly urge Gov. Riley and the new commissioner not to go down that road. We don't know of a case where it works well," McArthur said. 

McArthur said he doubted any private company could house inmates for less money than Alabama spends. 

"We have a responsibility to make sure the prisons are as safe as possible. The state is better able to do that than a for-profit corporation," he said. 

Campbell won high marks from Jim Rose, who retired in October as Tennessee's assistant prison commissioner for operations. 

No-nonsense type: 

"He did an outstanding job," Rose said. "He's a no-nonsense type individual. He ran a department that was orderly, clean, safe, secure, and he did that at a
very reasonable cost to the taxpayers." 

Tennessee state Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, a member of that state's legislative oversight committee for prisons, said Campbell was straightforward and worked well with legislators and his staff. 

"I think overall he did a good job," Windle said. He said he's not a big fan of privatization, but believes Campbell was following Sundquist's desires more than pushing for it himself. 

"He worked hard and got along well with the Legislature," Windle said. "All the people in the department I know respect Donal, and he worked well
with them. He can communicate very well. He has a lot of people skills."