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In Case You Missed It

A Day at Elmore County Correctional Facility

Bill Britt



By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Recently, I accompanied my wife, Susan, and radio-host-politico, Baron Coleman, on a tour of the Elmore County Correctional Facility.

To call spending any time in a state correctional facility a tour is much like labeling a sudden face-to-face with an alligator at a petting zoo. Prisons in Alabama are raw, metal, and concrete boxes that contain criminals, where every moment can become a violent confrontation for survival.

Our prisons house those who— at least for a period of time—are deemed unfit to live among us. According to the State, some are without redemption, and will be incarcerated until the day they die. Others will one day return to society. But for now, they all live in conditions unimaginable to most Alabamians.

The men in Elmore County Correctional Facility have forfeited their freedom because they committed crimes. We may feel compassion for them, but they are behind bars because of what they did, not what we failed to do.

But, not only are these individuals incarcerated, the men and women who work in corrections are locked up in there with them. And with an anemic starting salary of $28,000 annually, it is surprising anyone would want this job.


Sen. Dick Brewbaker invited Baron to visit the facility and I asked to tag along. Susan, being who she is, would not have it that only the boys would make the trek, and demanded a spot on the visitors list. She and I had toured St. Clair Correctional Facility a few years ago, so we had some idea of what was in store.

Elmore County Correctional facility is on a flat, parched plot of land, in what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

The thermometer in our vehicle read 95 degrees, as we sat on the black-top parking lot, facing the razor wire fence, waiting for our 2:00 p.m. appointment.

Elmore was built in 1981, as a temporary holding facility. It was upgraded in 1991 with three permanent dormitories designed to house 600 inmates. Today, it houses 1176, which is near or at 200 percent capacity. This obscene overcrowding is representative of the correctional system as a whole.

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Elmore is a Medium Custody prison meaning it holds prisoners who have demonstrated less severe behavioral problems. It is a level four facility, one click down from those with the most violent offenders.

Over 50 percent of the inmates at Elmore are violent offenders. The prison population consists of 762 Black, 404 White, and 10 from other ethic groups. The majority are serving 20 years to life. Of those incarcerated in Elmore burglary and theft, robbery and assault and murder represents the majority crimes. Sex-related offenses, outrank drug trafficking, manufacturing and distribution. Only 7.8 percent are serving time for procession of drugs.

The so-called dormitories are two-story metal buildings, essentially four exposed metal walls, approximately the size of a small high school gym.

Each dorm is home to 392 men who live in bunk-beds. There are a few wall-mounted fans and two televisions.

Conditions are cramped and infrastructure is minimal with 392 men sharing a communal bathroom. There are eight toilets and six shower heads affixed to two poles. Everything is clean, but old.

The dorms were designed for single beds, but now are equipped with bunk-beds. Bunk-beds are a problem, explains Warden Leon Forniss, because the COs can’t see what the prisoners are doing without walking each row. This makes for an unsafe environment for the CO and the inmates. Drugs, mischief and even consensual sex is not uncommon in prison, and the double stacked beds make it more difficult for a CO to police what is actually happening in the cramped quarters.

The prison is almost 50 percent under staffed. There are 100 open positions at Elmore alone. On an average shift there is one Correctional Officer (CO) for 59 inmates. Because of understaffing there are usually just two correctional officers to oversee each dorm. The COs are unarmed except for a radio, a can of mace, and a extendible baton.

As we enter the dormitories, we are accompanied by the warden, other staff, and two COs. The dorm’s temperature could reach 120 degrees today. We are surround by inmates, most pale, thin, dressed in white pants and t-shirts. We are told not to make eye-contact for safety reasons. We are instructed to be vigilant at every moment. No one is safe in prison, security is a mirage, made real only by professional leadership by the officers in the prison.

This is not television prison. Here the officers are outnumbered and the inmates are unpredictable. Brain power and professionalism is the CO’s greatest power.

Warden Forniss, who has worked in corrections for over three decades, sets the example. Leadership is what holds a prison together, not steel or iron.

Elmore offers drug and alcohol treatment, as well as counseling. Qualified inmates may attend classes at J.F. Ingram Community College, which is close by.

Elmore is the recycling headquarters for the Department of Corrections, and also maintains compost for the local area. It also serves as a regional laundry facility. But, for most inmates, their day is comprised of keeping the facility clean, eating, sleeping, and staying out of trouble.

The dinning room at Elmore can seat 144 inmates at a time, so meals are served in shifts, with breakfast beginning around 3 a.m. The food is home cooked on-site by certified kitchen staff. Food service is clean, efficient, and fast. An inmate only has 12 minutes to eat before the next group arrives.

The executive team that accompanied us at Elmore consisted of Warden Forniss, Assistant Warden Carl Clay, and Captain Anthony Smiley They are smart, tough men, who are dedicated to their jobs. Their kind is hard to find.

Lately, we have heard a great deal about prison reform, but it is not only the prisons that must be altered…it’s the entire Criminal Justice system. Prisons are just one room in a long corridor of criminal justice. Many times, it is the most visible, but to enact meaningful long-term change, the whole must be addressed, not simply a part.

But, this story is about one place which is an example of men and women doing good work in a broken system. We often hear “lock them up and throw away the key.” I have even heard people say, “chain them to a bed and give them bread and water.” At best those are blatantly ignore statements, at worst they are cruel and not aligned with the conscience of our founding constitution. In America, prison means a loss of freedom, not a loss of humanity, even for those who have committed heinous crimes. Our laws forbid cruel and unusual punishment.

Life in Elmore is certainly on the razor’s edge.

Last Legislative Session lawmakers passed some reforms, but did not fund them. Perhaps, a day at Elmore would convince them to act differently.

The Department of Corrections says the door is open to all legislators who would like a tour. But, few have actually made the request.

Alabama prisons are hard, brutal places, that punish.

We know how to be tough on crime.

The question is: Can we be smart about it.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.


In Case You Missed It

Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley



Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.


Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley



By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.


Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.


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In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.


Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison



By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.


The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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