NEW PRISONS CHIEF MAN WITH MISSION
----- Original Message -----
From: Rosemary Collins
Sent: Tuesday, February 11, 2003 10:31 PM
New prisons chief man with mission
Campbell tackles crowding, funding woes
News staff writer
MONTGOMERY -- After little more than a week on the job, Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell already has scoped out several years of work that needs to be done in the Alabama prison system.
Job One, Campbell says, is to comply with state and federal court orders that require him to find more space for inmates housed in crowded state prisons, such as Tutwiler Prison for Women, and 876 others backlogged in county jails.
That means finding immediate short-term alternatives to lockups and, down the road, building more prisons.
"My major concern right now is complying with these court orders," Campbell said. "The court order right now at Tutwiler demands that we reduce that population."
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson has given the state until Feb. 21 to file a plan to eliminate massive constitutional violations at Tutwiler built in
1942 for 365 inmates but now home to more than 1,000.
Where to put them?
"I don't know. That's what we've got to figure out, though," Campbell said last week. Campbell said he and Gov. Bob Riley are committed to solving
what Thompson has called "a ticking time bomb."
"We will. We will. We will fix it," said Campbell, a career prison officer and, for the past eight years, prison commissioner in Tennessee, one of only a handful of prisons systems in America accredited by the American Correctional Association.
"If I didn't think that the governor was committed, I would not be sitting here saying that," Campbell said. "I would not be sitting here if I did not feel the governor was committed to doing something about the problems that we have."
Campbell was Tennessee's prison commissioner from 1995 until Jan. 18, overseeing about 18,000 inmates, 5,200 employees and a budget of more than $500 million.
In contrast, Alabama prisons this year have a budget of $258 million, of which more than $57 million must be raised from prison industries, inmate work release, toll telephones and other sources.
Alabama prisons have about 28,000 inmates and 3,671 employees. With 10,000 fewer inmates than Alabama, Tennessee spends about $27,000 per inmate per year, almost triple Alabama's $9,200 per inmate per year.
Campbell, 51, has worked in Tennessee prisons since 1977, coming up through the ranks as a warden in 1985-1989, regional administrator in 1989-1995 and commissioner for eight years, during both terms of Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.
Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who took office last month, didn't ask Campbell to stay on as commissioner. Campbell's salary in Alabama is $95,000 per year, up slightly from Tennessee's $92,500, but Campbell said the money didn't bring him to Alabama.
"I enjoy this type of work. This is what I have done most of my life," he said. "I met with Governor Riley, and I felt good about what he wanted to do. And I felt he was serious about what he wanted to do. And I thought it would be fun to be part of that, especially with where the Department of Corrections, state of Alabama, is today. But it would be really nice to come and help and be a part of that."
Campbell has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Tennessee State University in Nashville.
During his years as a top administrator in the Tennessee prison system, Campbell oversaw major construction programs, including capital projects
and security upgrades.
Asked to describe what he sees in the Alabama prison system after a week on the job, Campbell said, "I see a system that appears to have endured a number of years from underfunding."
Central office and prison staff he has met "seem to be dedicated, knowledgeable employees that are willing to do the job with the resources that are provided, or if enough resources are provided for them."
The most immediate need, he said, is to find space for the system's inmates.
"It's going to take years to right the things that have taken place or not taken place in this department," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that this can be done ... but it's going to take resources."
Alabama's cost per inmate is $27 per day. The national average is about $60 to $70 per day, "which I think is too high," Campbell said. The Southeastern average is about $40 per day, which he thinks is about right.
"What I see here is what I saw 20-plus years ago in Tennessee, as far as the facilities, the equipment, the working conditions for our employees, which is very important," Campbell said.
He said Tennessee had one of the worst prison systems in the nation in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing and violence. "Today I believe they have one of the better systems in the country."
Will Campbell work to get Alabama's prisons up to national standards? "Absolutely, but that's going to be a way down the road," he said. "But I
think we have started that process by setting a goal."
In the next few weeks, Campbell will be in search of short-term ways of eliminating the backlog of state inmates in county jails and crowded conditions in state prisons. He also will study staff levels, which increased slightly during the Siegelman administration.
And, he said, he and Riley will ask the Legislature for more money. He said if he had to name three short-term goals, they would be: "Reduce the inmate population, provide adequate resources for our employees and provide adequate resources for this department to operate.
"Now, I don't think all of that will happen in the next 12 months, because this state has limited resources, but we must start that process. We have 21 other departments that probably have some of the same needs, and then there are other needs as well for this state."
What about long-term solutions?
Community corrections programs, regional drug-treatment centers and more prisons are part of the mix, Campbell said. "There are going to have to be new prisons built in this state," he said.
"I have no idea. I just know that there are going to have to be new prisons here," he said. "And I'm not setting a time line on that."