By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama houses a lot of dangerous criminals and it is struggling to come up with a plan to lower prison overcrowding without seeing a massive spike in crime. In a perfect world, we would simply double our number of prison beds. But, with a projected $25 million gap in funding for the troubled State General Fund, it is impossible for the State to fund a $200 million bond issue to build modern prisons. The existing prisons are already dangerously understaffed and are facing lawsuits of alleged sexual harassment of prisoners and potential human rights violations. The threat of a Federal takeover to deal with prison issues remains a possibility.
Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) has been tasked with heading a committee to explore solutions to reform Alabama’s troubled criminal justice system. A public hearing was held in Mobile earlier in the month on solving the prison crisis.
Sen. Ward said on Facebook in response to press coverage afterwards, “This is an issue that many have asked me ‘How did you get involved in this?’ I can tell you that my biggest drive was because how much money and threat to public safety I saw it was going to impact our state in the future. It will not be an easy road to reform but elected officials need to lead this effort to prevent long term public safety and avoid a very costly federal takeover of our prison system.”
Sen. Ward said, “This issue has been going on since the mid-1980s. Republicans took over in Alabama in 2010 so in the end it is both parties who are responsible to fix this issue.”
State Auditor-elect Jim “Zig” Zeigler said on Facebook, “Here I am at the town hall meeting about our over-crowded prison system. I was the only political official there among a room FULL of normal people in Mobile.”
Auditor-elect Zeigler wrote, “There was a lot of talk about the problems and little on solutions. Criminals cost us all, not just when they do the crime but also when they do the time. We are paying for free rent, food, medical treatment and a basic subsistence for each convict. And yet the federal guidelines say it is insufficient due to over-crowding. How did Gen. Oglethorpe manage to make money off a penal colony (Georgia) but we manage to lose a half billion a year?”
Zeigler is an attorney, an outspoken conservative activist and a former Public Service Commissioner, who will be sworn in next month.
The Alabama Corrections System is operating at an estimated 190 percent capacity. Corrections and the troubled Alabama Medicaid System consume a rapidly expanding portion of limited Alabama General Fund dollars.