News staff writer

MONTGOMERY The Alabama prison system cannot spend $2.4 million from an Atmore land sale to find space for state convicts backlogged in county jails unless the state Legislature approves it, state lawyers told a Montgomery judge Wednesday. 

Lawyers for Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Bill Pryor told Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy in a memo that his court also lacks authority to direct the spending of state funds for prisons. 

The Alabama Constitution, they said, "reserves the power to appropriate state funds exclusively to the Legislature." 

Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said state Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, will introduce a bill in the Legislature today to appropriate the money to the prison system. 

Shashy on Feb. 14 ordered prison officials to spend money from the sale of prison land in Atmore to expand community corrections programs, to pay for more parole officers, to renovate and operate a work-release camp in Jefferson County, and to pay $160,000 for legal fees for the counties. 

Shashy delayed his order, however, and set the matter for a hearing today in his court. 

State lawyers told Shashy on Wednesday that Riley is asking for about $3.7 million to ease crowding in the state's jails and prisons, mainly Tutwiler Prison for Women. They asked Shashy for 30 days to file a plan "to remedy the crowding problems at issue in this case." 

Assistant Attorneys General Scott Rouse and Charles Campbell, and Riley's legal adviser, Troy King, also told Shashy that he should follow an earlier state Supreme Court ruling case and dismiss the jail crowding lawsuit altogether. The Supreme Court, they said, has held that state courts cannot order a funding remedy for education, and the same should go for prisons. "Remedying the state's correctional problems," they said, "is a task that must be undertaken by the Legislature, not this court." 

Shashy has imposed fines of $50 per inmate per day for each state inmate left in county jails more than 30 days after their sentence is imposed. But state lawyers told Shashy Wednesday that he "can accomplish very little by wielding its contempt powers."

They also contend Shashy does not have the power to order the state to pay legal fees for the counties, which filed the jail crowding suit, because the state has sovereign immunity.