By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
There will be yet another prison bill introduced when the Legislature returns on April 4, but even so, skepticism is growing over lawmakers’ chances of getting any legislation passed.
The fact that there will be another prison bill – this one backed by more than a dozen sheriffs and sponsored by Rep. Allen Farley – is evidence of how deeply divided lawmakers are over the issue.
The new bill leans heavily on a system that would expand county jails, utilizing sheriffs and deputies to house and monitor prisoners. That would cut sharply into the State’s prison population and reduce the need for new construction and the pricetag.
The price has already dropped significantly – at least, on paper – going from $800 million in State funds to just $100 million. But the Senate-passed version of the prison bill also calls for two counties to agree to finance the construction of two prisons, which the State would then lease and operate.
Two people with knowledge of the GOP plans, who spoke to APR on condition of anonymity, said they’re skeptical of the bill’s chances of passing, because it creates a number of problems and likely costs the state much more money in the long run.
One of those sources said Republicans in the Senate openly discussed the bill’s likely failure even as they were pushing it forward two weeks ago.
The bills put forth by Republicans so far – including the new bill that will be introduced next week – don’t address the two biggest issues facing Alabama’s prisons currently: mental health and a lack of correctional officers (Several State prisons have less than four guards on duty at a time, and some of those prisons have more than a thousand inmates).
Federal Court Judge Myron Thompson is likely to hammer the State in the near future over its failure to address serious issues in the area of mental health. Numerous rumors around the issue have Thompson requiring the State to hire more than 100 mental health workers for its prisons. He could also order the State’s Department of Corrections to hire more personnel.
In the meantime, State officials are apparently mostly content with Thompson settling it and they’ve made no serious effort to correct either issue. They’re instead spending their days bickering among each other.
On one side, DOC and some lawmakers want the three-facility plan – however it comes about. On the other side are those backing the sheriffs and their mostly-county facilities plan.
On Tuesday, the latter group got word that the former was making an end-run and trying to convince the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association to back their $100 million plan. So, the sheriffs backing the county plan showed up at the Association’s office to intervene.
It’s that kind of a fight, and it appears to be getting worse.