By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The State’s Corrections system is about to be taken over by the federal government. That is a warning from State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabama). The system is at 185 percent capacity and that could actually increase next year due to anticipated budget cuts.
It is a fundamental function of state government that it punish people for their crimes; but Alabama’s prisons have been neglected and understaffed for so long that money needs to be spent upgrading aging facilities and correcting problems that have been allowed to fester.
State Senator Cam Ward expressed his concerns about the possibility of federal intervention recently to reporters while expressing his disappointment in, “The direction we are taking as a legislature on adopting a General Fund Budget. We have so many necessary constitutional obligations that I believe we are ignoring. A special session is a disservice to the people we represent.”
No state spends less money clothing and feeding its prison population and we have one of the highest prisoners to guard ratios in the country.
After vetoing the $1.62 “austerity” State General Fund budget (SGF) on Thursday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told ABC 33/40’s Lauren Walsh that the SGF budget passed by the legislature was, “Unworkable.” Bentley warned that if the state had to enter FY 2016 with just the $1.62 billion General Fund Budget then our prison system will go from 185 percent capacity to 225 percent, the courts will be affected, many parks will be closed, and people who use state mental health services will suffer. Governor Robert Bentley (R) said in a statement, “This General Fund Budget is unworkable & does not adequately fund the essential services of gov’t. I have vetoed the budget.”
The typical Alabama prisoner lacks a high school education, has been in and out of the justice system since they were teens, has drug and alcohol dependency problems, has little if any marketable job skills, and in many cases suffers from mental illnesses. Those over utilized facilities are rapidly aging and if budget cuts result in closing drug courts, supervised release programs, and community corrections that could actually increase. The Obama Justice Department has been pressuring state officials to do something about the conditions in the prisons for years when those felons are moved to the penitentiary.
Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley (R) had proposed an ambitious plan to build newer more modern prisons and adequately staff the ones we have as part of his $billion a year tax increase proposal; but that was voted down by voters in 2003. Problems in the prisons have been allowed to fester even as the legislature covered up the general fund budget problems the last three years by raiding $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund…..money the State has to pay back.
State Representative Kerry Rich (R) said in a statement, “We passed a good Prison Reform Bill which still has to be funded but this will put our prison system on the path to reform by doing a number of things but will provide funding for more Probation officers and change the way non-violent offenders are sentenced and will use Community Corrections and Work programs for these offenders, plus provides for a bond issue to build more prisons.”