----- Original Message ----- 
Sent: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 10:10 PM
Subject: No more foot-dragging 

Judge orders state to spend money to ease jail crowding 

 In the big picture, $2.4 million the state earned last year from the sale of prison land is little more than a drop in the bucket of what's needed to solve state prisons' crowding problem. You'll have to multiply the $2.4 million by 62, for example, just to reach the $150 million more in state funding that the former prisons commissioner said prisons needed to bring them up to par. And that amount, if anything, is on the conservative side. 

Still, the $2.4 million should have been put to use by now. Last week, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge William Shashy rightly ordered the state to spend the money as it promised in September to free up prison space and relieve crowded county jails. 

The judge gave the state 14 days to spend the money. If it doesn't, he said the money should be turned over to the court, which would then disperse it. 

After months of state foot-dragging, the judge had to take aggressive action. He's going to have to continue to keep the heat on the state and make it clear to prison officials, the governor and the Legislature that they must deal with prisons' crowding, staffing and funding crisis. 

Using the Siegelman administration plan, 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 to supervise the nonviolent inmates paroled at special hearings held to speed up the parole process. 

$350,000 to expand community corrections programs. 

$475,000 to open 200 mental health beds at Bullock and Donaldson prisons. 

$200,000 to renovate and run a work-release camp in Birmingham. 

$160,000 to the Association of County Commissions for part of its legal fees in the jail crowding lawsuit. 

The rest of the money would go toward the more than $2 million in contempt-of-court fines that have been accumulating since last June at $26 to $50 per day for each inmate who has been in a county jail beyond 30 days of his conviction. The number of inmates in jails longer than 30 days has been as high as 1,600. 

The state prisoners not only have crowded jails some to unsafe levels but for years have eaten up big chunks of county budgets. The state reimburses counties only $1.75 per inmate per day, even though it costs the counties up to $50 a day to jail, feed and provide health care for the prisoners. 

The steep court fines mean it's also costing the state money or, at least, it will when the state starts paying. 

Note, too, that the money from the prison land sale won't reimburse the counties for their jail expenses. In fact, county officials say the $160,000 toward legal fees doesn't come close to covering the cost of their lawyers. 

A prison spokesman said Gov. Bob Riley is reviewing Shashy's order to determine what course to take, but that new prisons Commissioner Donal Campbell agrees with the spending plan the prison system offered last year. That ought to mean Riley and Campbell will follow the judge's order. 

With that drop safely in the bucket, they and the Legislature can concentrate on a more difficult task figuring how to come up with the many other millions of dollars needed to fix prisons.