By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The Legislature contemplated Gov. Kay Ivey’s newest promise to reform the prison system in Alabama with talks of procuring money from the general fund budget.
Ivey offered a new solution in her first State of the State Address Tuesday by focusing mainly on the under staffing at facilities across the state. Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn requested millions in an increased budget to accommodate the staff that would be hired at the annual budget hearings last week.
Dunn gave a similar report at the Joint Legislative Prison Committee on Wednesday by highlighting the negatives of the understaffed and overcrowded prisons around the state. Dunn also said there were some positives, such as new educational training for inmates re-entering the work force.
Falcon INC., a corrections consultant company, also presented their proposal to help Alabama reorganize its mental health care. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that Alabama’s mental health facilities in prisons were “horrendously inadequate” and ordered the state government to remedy the situation.
But the meetings took a sour turn with state Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, questioning if they should trust the barely year-old company with the task of fixing the mental health care shortcomings of the prison system.
Dr. Elizabeth Falcon, CEO and president of Falcon INC., defended her company at the meetings citing the decades of experience and the six Department of Corrections they’ve consulted with across the country.
Ultimately, the committee took no direct action on Wednesday and chose to wait for the report from the Governor’s Office dealing exactly how understaffed the prisons are.
Ivey said in her Tuesday address that she had instructed Dunn to work with the Governor’s Office to craft a master plan to address infrastructure, health care, and correctional staff in prisons.
Since taking office, Ivey made corrections reform a concern of her administration. The Juvenile Task Force, an Ivey-created task force, formally gave their recommendations to the Legislature for reform of the Juvenile system in a Wednesday morning press conference.
The 20-person task force was composed of state leaders and law enforcement officials from within the Juvenile system. Ivey’s task force took a more proactive approach to reducing the number of youth offenders while also reducing the costs of housing a child inmate. A December report from the task force said that the state spent $161,694 per child offender a year.
According to the task force, their recommendations would reduce the number of youths in facilities by 45 percent by 2023. The report also said the reduction in youth offenders would save the state $34 million over the next 5 years.
Prisons were also a topic of last year’s session when Ivey’s predecessor, Gov. Robert Bentley, supported a plan to borrow $800 million to build new mega prisons across the state. The prison bills ultimately failed to get past the Legislature with most of them not making it past the Judiciary Committee.
The final nail in the coffin came during the last week of the session with the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, declaring the bills were dead.
It was speculated that Ivey would call a special sessions to address the prison issue, but the session never materialized.