The Associated Press
12/7/02 11:55 AM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A judge imposed new fines totaling millions of dollars against the Department of Corrections for allowing a backlog of more than 1,600 state prisoners in county jails in violation of a court order.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy on Friday ordered the prison system to pay $50 a day for each state convict left in county jails more than 30 days, starting Aug. 13. He had warned the state in a June 14 order that he would raise contempt fines to that amount if it did not clear its inmates out of the county jails.
In his ruling, Shashy also ordered the state to immediately pay fines he imposed in June, which have been accruing at a rate of $26 per day per inmate. The state's total had risen to $2.16 million as of mid-April.
"The defendants have not only failed to remove the state inmates from county jails but have also failed to pay the counties as ordered," Shashy wrote. "The state comptroller and defendants have neither followed nor appealed this (June 14) order."
Shashy said he wants $26 of the new daily fines paid directly to Alabama counties and the remaining $24 paid to the clerk of the Montgomery County Circuit Court. With 1,600 inmates backlogged in the jails, the new fines would accumulate at a rate of $2.4 million a month.
The judge said he will use money paid to the court to carry out steps Prison Commissioner Mike Haley and Gov. Don Siegelman promised to take to eliminate jail crowding.
Haley and Siegelman "have failed to follow through on their promises," Shashy stated.
Siegelman press secretary Mike Kanarick told The Birmingham News that Haley hasn't been able to carry out steps promised to ease crowding because the Legislature hasn't appropriated money from a prison land sale in Atmore.
Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said Siegelman and state Finance Director Henry Mabry could have applied the land sale money to the prison system's conditional appropriations, which have had legislative approval.
The land sale money also could have been spent through a line in the prison budget or miscellaneous expenditures at Haley's discretion, Brasfield said.
"We had hoped that one or the other of those two avenues would have been used long before now," Brasfield told The News.
Shashy ordered Haley on Friday to report to him immediately on what happened to the $2.4 million land sale money and where the proceeds from the sale are being held.
Haley's plan called for $750,000 of the land sale money to be used to resume a special Thursday docket at the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, to consider paroles for non-violent inmates.
"We have not received any money," said Cynthia Dillard, assistant executive director of the Parole Board.
The special Thursday dockets began last year but were discontinued when Siegelman reneged on a promise of money to pay for extra parole officers to supervise released convicts.
The Thursday hearings recently were resumed at 20 to 25 hearings a week, or about half the regular docket load, Dillard said.
Shashy said the Thursday parole docket was Haley's "number one short-term relief," but "has not been accomplished."
"This court is troubled by the lack of progress toward a meaningful solution to the problem of the backlog of state inmates," Shashy wrote Friday.
Shashy said he also will use money from the new fines on other steps mentioned in Haley's unfulfilled plan, such as providing counseling, drug testing, job readiness training, help for addicted offenders to find jobs, and drug treatment in regional facilities.
Shashy has not ruled on an emergency request Haley filed Tuesday seeking to block sheriffs around the state from dumping backlogged inmates on the prison system without approval by prison officials.
Etowah County officials took 71 inmates to Kilby Prison on Monday and Tuesday. Calhoun County officials are seeking a court order allowing them to take 85 inmates to Kilby, and Houston County officials said they will take 58 inmates to the prison Tuesday.
Unless the counties are stopped from dumping inmates without prison system approval, an emergency crisis would be created that "would cause a safety hazard to the general public, the employees of the department and the inmates," Haley said.