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A positive note in prison debate

By Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Matt Fridy

The news surrounding the Alabama corrections system seems to be one negative story after another with much of the focus on the need for reform and consolidation in the system as well as higher quality of service and better outcomes.  Much of this is true and is a result of inadequate funding, not because of poor leadership or management.  In fact, we would argue that ADOC has some of the best leadership under Commissioner Jeff Dunn and his team that we have had in some time.  They are tackling the bigger problems and looking for ways to solve them in the face of many challenges.

However, not everything at ADOC is bad news, in fact there is one diamond among the rough that Dunn and his team have recognized as an example of how corrections could be run with the appropriate funding and dedication to positive outcomes for those leaving the system and returning to their local communities.

The Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana, Alabama will have been open for ten years this coming March and have worked with almost 7,000 ADOC inmates who participated in an innovative six month rehabilitation program at the facility.

The program is a partnership between the GEO Group as well as ADOC and the Alabama Department of Post Secondary Education.  Here the participants come from DOC facilities all over the state and enter into a six month evidence based program of drug rehabilitation, education and an opportunity for a vocational degree in five different trades and crafts via our community college system.  We have toured the ATEF and it is in fact a model of what we as legislators would like to see across the state of Alabama.

Why?  What are the results from almost ten years at this unique medium security facility?  According to the Alabama Department of Corrections this past July, over those ten years, the ATEF has an average recidivism rate of 15 percent. To put that into context, the state of Alabama’s recidivism rate is 35 percent (per ADOC) and the national average is 76 percent.  In fact, a U.S. Bureau of Justice study stated that within five years of release, 76 percent of inmates leaving state facilities are rearrested.

The challenge we have in Alabama and will continue to have, is adequate funding for proven programs such as ATEF.  However, with a commitment from the Ivey Administration, the ADOC, ALDPSE and the legislature, the teaching and the treatment and the vocational degrees for participants going back to their local communities can continue and will at ATEF.  Alabama should be looking for ways to fully utilize ATEF and expand this model with proven results into other areas of our state’s corrections system.  Simply put, the results speak for themselves and if we dedicate funding to expanding a program with a 15 percent recidivism rate, numerous lives will be improved and the state will see the benefits for decades to come.

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