PRISONS MUST SPEND $2.3M
By Mike Cason
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy on Friday ordered the state prison system to spend $2.4 million to carry out a plan to relieve
Gov. Don Siegelman told the court in September that the state would use money obtained from a land sale to hire more parole officers, expand
community corrections, add bed space for mentally ill inmates and other needs.
The prison system sold the land near Atmore for $2.4 million last year, but hasn't spent the money.
Shashy's order is the latest ruling in a lawsuit filed by counties to force the state to receive inmates from county jails in a timely fashion.
The Siegelman administration's position was that it could not spend the money to carry out the plan without approval of the Legislature, which has constitutional authority to appropriate state funds.
Gov. Bob Riley replaced Siegelman on Jan. 20. David Azbell, press secretary for Riley, said Shashy's order is under review. The judge gave the state 14 days to comply.
"We'll be consulting with attorneys from both the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Corrections," Azbell said. "We'll decide a course of action after those consultations take place."
The state's prisons are full, which has slowed the state's acceptance of inmates from county jails. The state should receive inmates within 30 days of sentencing, but has at times allowed more than 1,600 to remain in county jails beyond that deadline.
In December, Shashy ordered the state to begin accepting about 100 inmates a week in addition to its normal intake of about 175 a week. That has reduced the county backlog to about 1,000. That's still far too high, said Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.
"We've been very frustrated that the money has not already been spent," Brasfield said. "What we hope is going to happen is that the state will
look for a way to spend the money, not look for a way to avoid spending the money."
Shashy's order calls for $750,000 to go to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to hire at least 10 new parole officers. That was a key part of Siegelman's plan, because it enabled the board to accelerate paroles of nonviolent offenders, freeing bed space.
"As we originally set out to do in the plan, we want to spend that money to do those things that are specified," said Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections. "We've been unable to do that because that money was held up by the state. We still want to take that exact same money and carry out that plan. I think it would be beneficial for the Department of Corrections and county jails in the long run if we can carry out the plan."
Riley and Attorney General Bill Pryor said the long-term solution to the prison problem is sentencing reform. The Alabama Sentencing Commission, created by the Legislature three years ago to recommend changes in the state's criminal penalties, will report to the Legislature this spring.
In addition to the case in Shashy's court, the state faces a federal lawsuit on conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. The state must submit a plan to make the prison safer to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson by Feb. 21.
Alabama also faces litigation involving its medical care for inmates.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy on Friday ordered the state to use money from a land sale to carry out a plan to relieve prison crowding.
$750,000: To hire parole officers
$350,000: To expand community corrections
$200,000: To expand a work release facility in Jefferson County
$160,000: To reimburse the Association of County Commissions of Alabama for fees and expenses in its lawsuit against the Department of Corrections