----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 3:23 PM
Subject: Ala. Senate May Put Emergency Prison Request on Fast Track
Ala. Senate May Put Emergency Prison Request on Fast Track
Legislation to ease the overcrowding crisis at Alabama's prison for women appears to be on the fast track as lawmakers return Tuesday, the first day of the 2003 regular session in which either house of the Legislature can pass bills.
Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, said he has asked that a bill to give the Alabama Department of Corrections a $3.6 million emergency appropriation be placed on the Senate's work agenda for Tuesday.
Mitchem sponsored the bill to give the prisons the money needed to reduce the number of inmates at Tutwiler Prison for women near Wetumpka from 1,000 to 750 to comply with a federal judge's order.
Mitchem said he wants the bill to move through the Legislature quickly, partly to show the new Republican governor that he and the Democrat-controlled Legislature can work together to solve the state's problems.
"Of course we've got a court order, ordering that something be done," Mitchem said. "But it's also important to show the governor that no matter what side we're on, we're all going to work together."
Another version of the bill will be considered Tuesday by the House Government Finance and Appropriations Committee.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in December that Tutwiler is "a ticking time bomb" because of too many inmates and too few officers to guard them. The state is also under an order from Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy to reduce the number of state prisoners in county jails.
Riley proposed a plan to Thompson that called for reducing the Tutwiler population to 750 by increasing paroles and community corrections programs and by transferring up to 300 new prisoners to private prisons in Louisiana. Finance Director Drayton Nabers last week told the Senate's General Fund budget writing committee, chaired by Mitchem, that the $3.6 million would partly be used to transfer the women prisoners to the private facility.
The idea of transferring prisoners out-of-state has been criticized by attorneys for the Tutwiler inmates, who filed a lawsuit over conditions at the state's women's prison. The attorneys say the transfers would move the prisoners too far away from their families and their attorneys.
Mitchem said he just wants the Legislature to appropriate the money and leave it up to corrections officials and the governor to decide the best way to comply with the court order.
Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said the Legislature needs to make the appropriation a top priority.
"That money is instrumental in working out the plan set forth to Judge Thompson," Corbett said.