No prison plan

 No prison plan 

Riley needs more time to perform magical feat 

02/05/03, The Birmingham News

  If Bob Riley is to perform magic with prisons, he deserves a little more time. The new governor is asking for an additional two weeks before submitting a
plan to resolve overcrowded and dangerous conditions at Tutwiler, the state's prison for women. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson rejected a plan offered by the outgoing Siegelman administration and told the new Riley administration
to present its plan by this Friday. 

Thompson said the Siegelman plan depended on stopping counties from sending convicted inmates to the prison, which he didn't have the authority to order, and was based on the assumption that the state didn't have the money to hire guards and make other needed improvements. The judge has made clear he won't allow the state to make the lack of money an accuse for not
fixing the prison. 

Still, Thompson should grant the new governor more time. A two-week delay is not unreasonable considering that Riley has been in office only a couple of weeks. 

But the judge must continue to pressure the state. Prisons are in crisis, due in no small part to the state's inaction. 

Tutwiler is a prime example of the state's failure to head off a potentially calamitous situation. The state's only prison for women was built 60 years ago
to hold 365 inmates. Today, however, more than 1,000 inmates are packed into Tutwiler. 

Thompson ruled the conditions unconstitutional and described the prison as "a ticking time bomb." He had ordered the Siegelman administration to come up with a plan by the end of December to fix the problems. 

That plan included a freeze on new inmates coming into the prison, hiring more corrections officers, implementing changes to improve safety and building a new $60 million prison for women. The most significant of those changes, however, depended on a large increase in funding from the state. 

With budget shortfalls next year expected to top a half billion dollars, finding even $60 million for a new prison is unlikely. Plus, the $60 million is only
part of the nearly $150 million in additional money that the former prison commissioner said is needed to fix problems systemwide. Men's prisons also are dangerously overcrowded. 

Riley and his new prison commissioner, Donal Campbell, have their work cut out. Even if they're given more time, finding a way out of the prison morass will require the skills of a magician.