Distant relatives 

  State can't forget families of prisoners sent out of state 


  The dislocation families experience when a wife or husband, mother of father is sent to prison is unavoidable. And the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the family member who committed the crime that landed him or her in prison. 

  But family dislocation isn't just a problem for the relatives and friends of convicts. Society has a stake as well, because it's society that ultimately must deal with family problems that crop up as a result of, say, a parent's incarceration. It's in our best interest to help keep a son from following in his father's criminal footsteps. 

  Plus, most of those in prison today will someday be released back into society. Having a family structure still in place will make that transition less traumatic for the ex-convict and society. 

  For those reasons, Alabama prison officials need to make sure that the emergency measure of sending prisoners out of state doesn't unnecessarily add to the hardships of families already struggling to keep in touch with locked-up relatives. 

  To comply with a federal court order to relieve the dangerously overcrowded Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, the state has bused 140 women prisoners to a private prison in Louisiana. Another 150 are expected to join them soon. 

  Prison officials also plan to send some 600 male convicts out of state to help meet a state court's order to reduce the backlog of state prisoners crowding county jails. Those prisoners are languishing in county lockups because there's no room for them in overcrowded prisons. 

  The Riley administration hopes sending prisoners out of state is only a temporary fix. The state has no other choice. 

  Decades of prison underfunding combined with a rapidly growing prison population resulted in a prison system with twice as many inmates as it was built to handle and too few corrections officers. It's going to take years and up to $1 billion to fix the problem. 

  Meanwhile, as the state sends more inmates to prisons 500 miles away, families of those prisoners shouldn't be penalized further. The state should assist them with transportation to Louisiana, if necessary, to visit relatives. It also needs to make sure inmates sent to Louisiana have at least the same access to education and other programs they had in Alabama. 

  The miles inmates travel out of state shouldn't distance them further from their families.