News staff writer

MONTGOMERY State lawyers asked a judge Tuesday to delay his order to spend $2.4 million from the sale of prison land in Atmore to help find space for hundreds of state convicts backlogged in crowded county jails. 

Lawyers for Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Bill Pryor told Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy that the state constitution requires legislative approval of his or any other court orders
to spend state funds. 

Because the Legislature is not in session, it is impossible to meet the Friday deadline Shashy set to spend the money, lawyers said. 

Shashy on Feb. 14 gave the state two weeks to spend money from the Atmore land sale to carry out plans filed by prison officials during the administration of former Gov. Don Siegelman. The plans were aimed at finding space for 2,000 or more state convicts backlogged in county jails around the state. 

Shashy 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; $350,000 to expand community corrections programs; $475,000 to open 200 mental health beds; $200,000 to renovate and operate the East Thomas work-release camp in Jefferson County; and $160,000 to pay the Association of County
Commissions of Alabama for part of its legal fees in the lawsuit. 

The rest of the land sale money, Shashy's order said, should be spent on the millions of dollars in contempt-of-court fines he imposed because of the
state's failure to remove state convicts from county jails as required by state law. 

Tuesday's motion by state lawyers asked Shashy to amend or vacate his latest order or delay it pending appeal and legislative approval. 

Lawyers for Riley and Pryor told Shashy they are not backing away from commitments to remedy prison crowding and, in fact, plan to provide even more money to Alabama prisons than previously committed. 

They said Riley last week transferred $1 million to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to hire 28 new officers instead of the 10 officers mentioned in
Shashy's order. 

They also plan to spend all $2.4 million of the land sale money "to alleviate the crowding of prisons and jails across the state" as soon as the Legislature
approves it. 

Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions, said the state's request to delay expenditures to relieve jail backlogs is another example of the branches of government tangling with each other "while the taxpayers pay the tab on both ends." 

Brasfield said he wonders whether the state really plans to spend the land sale money on something else. 

"We will take their temperature on that issue on the first day of the (legislative) session," Brasfield said. The session begins March 4.