MORE PAROLES PART OF PROPOSAL
By Mike Cason
Gov. Bob Riley on Friday offered a plan to reduce overcrowding at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women by sending some inmates out of state, increasing paroles of nonviolent offenders and taking other steps.
Riley submitted the plan to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who ruled in December that the prison was so dangerous and overcrowded that it violated the U.S. Constitution.
"This is the first step in trying to solve a problem that has plagued Alabama for a long time," said Troy King, the governor's legal adviser.
Riley's plan would initially send about 290 female inmates to private facilities out of state. King said Louisiana was one of the states under consideration but no final decision has been made. Riley said the out-of-state transfers are a temporary solution.
Riley sent $1 million to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on Friday to begin the process of hiring 28 new parole officers, expected to be in place by March 1. That will enable the parole board to hold special hearings for nonviolent female offenders beginning April 7. The goal would be to parole about 30 a week.
Tutwiler has a population of about 990 inmates. The plan is intended to reduce that to about 750 by the end of June and maintain that level.
Riley will also ask the Legislature for $3.7 million for the Department of Corrections to help carry out the plan.
Inmates sued the Alabama Department of Corrections last year, alleging that conditions at Tutwiler and two women's work release centers violated the U.S. Constitution. Thompson issued a preliminary ruling in December, agreeing with part of the inmates' claims about Tutwiler.
Lisa Kung, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which represents the inmates, said Friday she had not seen Riley's plan. But, she said she opposed sending inmates out of state. She said other parts of the plan, including the increased paroles and the expansion of community corrections, sounded like positive steps. Community corrections is a broad set of programs that provide alternatives to prison.
"We're very pleased with anything that permanently brings down the population by removing beds," Kung said. "Our concern about sending inmates out of state is it just completely breaks off ties with community and family support."
Susan James, an attorney who represents the Alabama State Employees Association and a group of corrections officers, also said she opposed the plan to move inmates out of state. James said the practice of moving inmates to other states could eventually cost corrections officers jobs in Alabama.
James, a former federal corrections officer and a defense attorney for the last eight years, said inmates shipped out of state could not get good legal representation. Many are served by court-appointed attorneys who already have limited resources to commit to the cases, she said.
"How are you going to communicate with people and protect their interests when they're incarcerated in Louisiana?" James asked.
James, who had not seen the plan, said she generally approved of some of the other steps designed to offer alternatives for nonviolent offenders.
Riley's plan includes recommendations expected by the Alabama Sentencing Commission this spring. Those would change some property crime laws in the state, raising the monetary values that determine the punishments for those crimes. Some of those standards have not been adjusted since the mid-1970s.
The commission estimates the changes would result in 500 fewer women being sentenced to prison the first 12 months after the changes, which would have to be approved by the Legislature.
The Legislature created the Alabama Sentencing Commission in 2000 to study sentencing changes that would provide long-term reform for the state's criminal justice system.