Aug. 20, 2002

Uprising illustrates problem

The brief but scary inmate uprising at the Talladega County Jail last week highlights again the dangers of prison overcrowding in Alabama. This is not about mere inconvenience or discomfort, but genuine potential for disaster.

The Talladega County Jail was built to house 125 inmates. There were 219 inmates there when the riot broke out. About 60 of those were state inmates awaiting transfer to an Alabama correctional facility.

The jail would have been somewhat overcrowded even without the state inmates, but clearly the additional inmates made a dangerous situation all the more so. This is not some theoretical debate over penal policies, but real-world concerns that Alabama has to address.

With a court-called summit on the prison problem set for Sept. 4, the Talladega incident is yet another reminder of the need for both long- term solutions to overcrowding and short-term measures that give the unfairly burdened counties some relief.

"I don't believe this issue can be resolved with pretty words," said state Sen. Lowell Barron, president pro tem of the Senate and one of the officials called to the summit. "It's going to take more money for corrections and more spaces for prisoners and alternatives to incarceration for non-violent inmates."

That's the nutshell version. The real task lies in working out the details of doing all that.