By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), chair of the prison oversight committee, has called for security increases to reduce inmate abuse in Alabama prisons. A lack of security cameras, coupled with understaffing and overcrowding of Alabama’s prisons has lead to several instances of alleged inmate abuse in recent years.
This past legislative session, the legislature granted a $16.7 million budget increase for Alabama Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas to make security improvements and hire 100 more correctional officers.
According to Ward, security cameras would protect both inmates and staff. Guards would be less likely to abuse inmate rights and inmates would be unable to falsely accuse guards of abuse. “One day a lawsuit is going to force the legislature on this issue,” Ward said.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Alabama’s prison population has increased by 9.7 percent from 2007 to 2011. Nationally, the number of inmates in state prisons has fallen by 1.2 percent over the same time frame. Alabama’s increase in the corrections budget–$16.7 million–came in the same legislation that saw major cuts in other budget areas.
The Department of Children’s Affairs was zeroed out in the 2014 budget. The Alabama Historical Commission lost over $1 million. The Department of Homeland security lost over a quarter of a million dollars. The Department of Mental Health lost $250,000.
Bryan Stevenson, executive director for the Equal Justice Initiative, says that Alabama is behind most states in installing cameras in our prisons. Now that the budget allocations have been made, the updates can be installed and the prisons will be safer for both inmates and staff.