By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY —Projected budget cuts in the General Fund will not only pose a threat to public safety, but will also prevent prison reform efforts, according to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The latest budget projections show that Pardons and Paroles can expect an 18 percent reduction in funding for FY 2016. This, on top of the 25 percent cut from FY 2009 funding levels, will have a devastating effect on the Board’s ability to carry out its legal mandates.
According to the agency, on an annual basis, it supervises over 64,000 probationers and parolees, operates 61 field offices, a Central office in Montgomery, and a residential LIFE Tech transition facility in Thomasville.
A recent study by PARCA found that the State “spends about $43 a day per inmate to clothe, feed, house, and supervise its prisoners; about $15,308 per year, per inmate in the prison system. Alabama prisons are staffed at 58 percent of authorized levels, at a ratio of 12 prisoners per correctional officer.”
The study finds, “cutting prison costs under existing circumstances seems unlikely.”
They emphasize that reforms passed by the Legislature depend on an enhanced system of community supervision as an alternative to prison. However, the study concludes that the significant erosion in the Board of Pardons and Paroles budget will likely undermine reform efforts.
PARCA found that, “The ratio of probation and parole officers to offenders is 1 to 192, far in excess of levels recommended for a successful system of supervision.”
The agency say budget cuts will negatively impact the State’s prison overcrowding crisis, which prison reform advocates say could lead to a Federal takeover of the failing system.
According to the agency, an 18 percent cut will result in the forced layoffs of over 90 Pardons and Paroles staff resulting in “a significant threat to public safety.”
This would lead to the closure of LIFE Tech Thomasville, “the State’s only re-entry facility, providing meaningful education, vocational training, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and life skills to participating male offenders.”
A closure would mean many individuals would be returned to the Department of Corrections, while others would be released directly back into communities across the State, without supervision.
The agency would also be forced to forfeit $1,100,000 in Federal grant funds awarded to operate 2 different evidence-based programs, in Birmingham, Decatur, Montgomery, Greenville, and Mobile.
The agency says, “cutting funding to Pardons and Paroles is the last thing that should happen in order to adequately preserve public safety.”