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State Auditor Ziegler pitches another prison reform plan

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Jim Ziegler has a plan for Alabama’s prison problem.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, the Alabama State Auditor laid out a 12-step plan – which he dubbed “Plan Z” – to correct Alabama’s overcrowded prison issues. Ziegler said his Plan Z would cost taxpayers only a quarter of the $800 million reform plan being pushed by Gov. Robert Bentley.

However, Ziegler conceded that the savings of his plan aren’t documented, that many of his proposals need to be fleshed out and might not be workable and that several of his proposals will be controversial.

“Maybe naively, but I believe this is something the Legislature will consider when weighing their options,” Ziegler said. “I think it’s good to have alternatives. Many people think Gov. Bentley’s $800 million reform plan is the only option. I just want to show that that’s not the case.”

The most controversial aspect of Ziegler’s plan is a proposal to offer voluntary relocation to prisoners who meet certain criteria. Ziegler said the idea originates with “200-year-old practices of exile,” in which those violated laws were forced out of kingdoms and off islands.

Under Ziegler’s voluntary relocation idea, prisoners who have served the required portion of sentences would be allowed to relocate to another state, excluding the four states that border Alabama, if they can submit a viable plan for establishing jobs, a residence and parole oversight in the other state.

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“This particular idea is the only original idea from me,” Ziegler said. “The others in my proposal are gleaned from others, but this one was an original. It draws on the time-honored penal strategy of exile.

“There were many problems with exile, or banishment, but this would be on the parole, release end.”

Among the other proposals in Ziegler’s plan are a number of cost-saving initiatives that could be executed within the current setup, including cutting the overtime pay, shifting prisoners with mental health issues into mental health care facilities covered by Medicaid and shifting elderly prisoners into nursing homes that receive federal assistance dollars.

Ziegler said he has already been approached by one nursing home management company that wants to set up a prisoner-only nursing home among its existing facilities.

“It’s a self-serving idea, which is the best kind in this situation,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler also pointed out that Bentley’s plan, which calls for four “super prisons” located around the state, would leave vacant a number of prison facilities that taxpayers have paid to upgrade in recent years, and some that are currently being upgraded.

“The legislature’s contract review committee approved three contracts on Dec. 1 for $1.5 million each,” Ziegler said. “That’s $4.5 million for current renovations – that’s real money.”

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Ziegler also proposed turning Tutweiler women’s prison into a men’s prison and building a new facility for women. And he proposed continuing with current sentencing reform in the state.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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