The Associated Press
3/12/03 7:26 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Members of a prison guard's association gathered Wednesday outside the Alabama Statehouse, hoping to attract the attention of lawmakers inside who will decide how to address prison overcrowding and guard shortages. 

The shortage of officers at state prisons is worsening as some 205 guards have been called to active military duty, said Annie Latimore, a corrections officer at Staton Prison and president of the Alabama State Corrections Association. 

"It's just putting us at a (greater) disadvantage than we were already at," she said Wednesday at a news conference attended by about 30 corrections officers. 

"We are in dire needs and on top of that, our governor has said something about cutting our budget," Latimore said. "We do not need our budget cut, we need it increased if anything." 

Pepper Bryars, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley, said the governor supports Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell's budget request of $233 million -- $29 million more than last year -- but can't give any agency money the state doesn't have. 

"The state has no overdraft protection in its accounts" and can spend only money it has, Bryars said. "So Alabama has to work with what it has, not what it needs. 

"But he hears those corrections officers loud and clear," Bryars said. "And we're not through. Not by a long shot." 

Latimore said her group remains neutral on the idea of moving Alabama inmates to prisons in other states, one of the solutions to overcrowding suggested by the Riley administration. 

"I think it's sort of hard for us to ask for relief and then take a stand on where they go," she said. 

Mac McArthur, president of the Alabama State Employees Association, said he was glad to have been wrong last summer, when he warned that there would be a prison riot in Alabama. 

"But I'm going to stand here today and tell you that if things don't improve, nobody here thinks that we'll get through this next year without a prison riot." 

Several of the officers Wednesday said they've had to work as much as 40 hours per week of overtime to make up for the guard shortage. 

Officer Erskine Robinson, who works at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County, said the officers weren't complaining, but trying to show how drastic the shortage is. 

"We're corrections officers, we realize what we're getting into," Robinson said about working long hours. "(But) it's getting ridiculous because it's not only putting us at peril, but it's not giving us an opportunity for proper rest and to do other things."