03/06/03, The Birmingham News

News staff writer

MONTGOMERY Gov. Bob Riley could spend an extra $3.675 million this year to ease crowding at Tutwiler Prison for Women, including $2.7 million to keep 300 women inmates in private prisons in Louisiana, under a spending plan passed Wednesday by a Senate panel. 

The Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee voted 10-0 to pass the spending plan and send it to the full Senate, which could debate it next week. If passed there, it would go to the House of Representatives for review. 

The money could come either from a $12.8 million reserve for the General Fund for state agencies or from a $12.5 million fund created in case courts order future corporate tax refunds. 

The money would help Riley carry out his plan to lower the inmate population at the Wetumpka prison from about 1,000 women to 750 as soon as possible, said state Finance Director Drayton Nabers Jr. The prison is designed for 617 inmates. 

Riley aides told U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of Montgomery last month that he would seek the extra money to ease crowding at Tutwiler. Thompson ruled in
December that Tutwiler was unconstitutionally unsafe because of crowding and a lack of supervision by correctional officers. Thompson has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. today on whether he should accept, reject or modify Riley's plan. 

Nabers said that if Riley's plan survives Thompson's review and lawmakers approve the extra spending, the women sent to private prisons in Louisiana likely will be inmates who are in county jails awaiting transfer to Tutwiler. 

"It is not a permanent solution to the problem," said Nabers. He said the women inmates would be in Louisiana temporarily, but he didn't know how long. 

Riley also proposes spending $975,000 for community corrections work programs run by counties for non-violent criminals, including state inmates. That could keep hundreds more men and women from ever entering a state prison, or move some inmates out of prison. 

Nabers said Riley wants to give an extra $650,000 to existing community work programs, to divert about 300 women and men from prison. The remainder of the money would go to start such programs in Baldwin, Colbert and Lawrence counties, to divert about 100 people from prison. 

Riley last month also released $1 million from his emergency fund for the Department of Pardons and Paroles to hire 28 more parole officers, which will allow more non-violent inmates to be released early on parole. Nabers said Riley hoped to parole 750 men and women inmates "at a fairly rapid clip." 

Building a new women's prison to replace Tutwiler, the core of which was built in 1942, would cost about $60 million. Nabers said Riley wants to find "acceptable alternatives" to spending that much for a new prison. 

Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said he wished Riley would look for places in Alabama to move women inmates, such as
converting state mental health facilities. 

He called shipping inmates out-of-state a "very shortsighted and unwise decision." 

Prison spokesman Brian Corbett said Alabama officials have talked with executives at LCS Corrections Services in Lafayette, La., about taking some women inmates from Alabama, but nothing is official. 

"There's no guarantee that inmates are going out of state," Corbett said. 

Nabers said Riley in coming weeks would ask for even more money for prisons this year. 

State prisons, under pressure from a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court, are taking about 100 more inmates per month from county jails than had been expected, and that will take lots more money, Nabers said. 

He didn't say how much more would be required, but last month he said it could exceed $20 million.