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Legislature

Prisons ask for $42 million budget increase in 2021

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday the House and Senate General Fund budget committees were in Montgomery for a rare joint session as all of the State General Fund (SGF) department heads made their 2021 budget requests. Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeffrey S. Dunn requested $563 million in FY2021 – a $42 million increase from the 2020 budget.

Dunn said that the Alabama Department of Corrections “Is undergoing an unprecedented period of change. Now is the time.”

“Transforming the department into what we hope will be the most effective law enforcement agency in the state,” is Dunn’s stated goal. The system has over 21,000 inmates in 26 correctional facilities. After dropping from 23,000 “Our numbers are beginning to go back up.” There are 1100 more prisoners than a year ago and the prisons are at 169 percent capacity, up from 155 percent.

Dunn said that there are “Four Pillars of change” underway for ADOC: to be fully staffed, to be more rehabilitative in nature, new infrastructure, and a new culture.

In order to be fully staffed by 2022, and comply with the federal court order requiring that ADOC be properly staffed, ADOC is in the process of hiring 2,200 new prison guards.

The legislature approved adding 500 new corrections officers in the 2020 budget and Dunn said,” We believe that we will meet or exceed that number. We have hired more than that but there have been some retirements and attrition.”

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To accomplish this ADOC has improved pay and working conditions for officers. Dunn said that he is working collaboratively with the third party consulting firm which has prepared a plan for the Department to improve its staffing.

Dunn said that part of that effort is the creation of the basic correction officer position, “as recommended by third party experts.” ADOC has received ten thousand emails and phone calls from prospective recruits. 1491 prospects attended ADOC’s job fairs.

ADOC has a new compensation package with a new salary with pay raises, merit pay, and retention bonuses. In addition to the net gain of 255 officers, currently there are 420 names in the pipeline that are undergoing the necessary background checks in order to be trained as corrections officers.

“This request is for 700 more,” in the 2021 budget Commissioner Dunn said. “We will be back in 2022 for 655 more.”

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“There has been some confusion in the press about the new basic correction officer position,” Dunn said. “We only have one academy and one curriculum. It is the same curriculum for the full corrections officers as the basic. The only difference is that the basic corrections officers are not trained to carry firearms and they are not trained in transportation of prisoners because transportation has a firearms component.”

Dunn said that ADOC is focusing more attention on rehabilitation of its inmates. The department continues to expand its vocational efforts. New classrooms have been constructed and the system now offers twenty vocations. Reed “Ingram is the only community college in the country serving solely inmates. Ingram State has a near 100 percent success rate at getting graduates a job.”

Dunn said that they have added a trucking curriculum. Inmates can take an eight week training program while still incarcerated to learn to be truckers. Carpentry and HVAC (heating and air conditioning) have been added to the curriculum.

Dunn said that our third focus area has been infrastructure. We are working to improve the working conditions for our staff and living conditions for the prisoners including new prison construction.

Dunn said that the existing 26 prisons need $750 million in repairs and improvements and that the aging infrastructure is becoming “cost prohibitive” to repair.

Dunn said that they have three “qualified developer teams” to build three new prisons. That is part of our commitment to improving conditions in the prisons. Building the three new prisons “Will save money and make the prisons safer.”

State Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) asked about the Julia S. Tutwiler prison for women in Wetumpka.

“When I jointed the Department five years ago, Tutwiler was making headlines for all of the wrong reasons,” Dunn said. “Now Julia Tutwiler prison is a model for the nation and is making headlines for all the right reasons.”

Dunn said that there is a new documentary about Tutwiler that will soon be released. “I have seen it is very sobering; but it is very good.”

“For the first time in five years the staffing number is at 69 percent,” at Tutwiler. Dunn said. “For years it was forty to fifty five percent which contributed to the problems.”

“Tutwiler is now the oldest prison facility in Alabama,” Dunn said.

Warren asked if one of the three new prisons would be a women’s prison.

Dunn said that no, all of the three prisons in the current bid are for men’s prisons. Dunn said that the Department was going to request an RSP on what a Tutwiler replacement would cost.

If built that would be a fourth new prison.

Dunn said that there has been an increase in the number of women prisoners, so his budget increase includes funding for one hundred female inmates to be housed in county jails next year in addition to the ones in ADOC facilities.

Dunn told legislators that he did not know where the three new prisons were going to be though he had asked that they be close to ADOC’s current work force, close to healthcare facilities, and close to transportation infrastructure. “We do not care whether it is private or public land.” Dunn expected a bid award by April 30.

The fourth pillar of our transformation is changing the culture. Improving the culture requires communication and a “holistic” effort. Combating illegal contraband is part of that. ADOC has begun largescale contraband seizure programs.

Dunn said that officers have seized over 350 phones, $850,000 in drugs, and hundreds of makeshift weapons. The system is using canine officers to search for drugs and the dogs can detect a wide spectrum of drugs including synthetics.

“We remain fully committed to eliminating contraband,” Dunn said. “Our violence numbers are unacceptably high. We have increased staff training and established a task force to reduce the violence.”

Dunn said that the system has received a grant for a pilot program for the use of body cameras in our facilities.

Dunn said that ADOC is implementing health and wellness interventions for staff and that will require resources.

Dunn said that ADOC is dealing with the ongoing Department of Justice investigation and the fourteen court orders that we are currently under.

“The last six months have been very productive on this end and we are optimistic that we can have an agreement with the Justice Department,” Dunn said. There have been productive discussions between the attorneys with DOJ and ADOC.

There is a relationship between violence and understaffing,” Dunn said. “The best thing we can do is to continue to address our staffing issues.”

State Representative Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, asked how the contraband was getting in the prisons.

“It is getting in a variety of ways,” Dunn said. “Some of it is thrown over the fence; We have challenges in the visitation area; and there is an aspect where we have staff that are engaged in criminal activity by bringing in contraband.”

Dunn said that over 70 correctional officers have either been arrested or dismissed for brining in contraband in the previous three years. I do not have the numbers for 2019. There are still pending investigations.

“We do routine searches in our parking lot and our staff as they come in and out of the facility,” Dunn said. “We have increased that.”

Dunn predicted that as we have better compensation for our staff there will be less need for guards to supplement their income by smuggling in contraband to prisoners.

Reynolds asked how inmates were able to charge their contraband cell phones in prison.

“Inmates take advantage of the open wiring,” Dunn said. The prisons were not designed with cell phones in mind. The construction of new prisons will address that.

Reynolds asked how people from outside could smuggle in contraband to prisons in rural areas by throwing it over the fence.

Dunn said that this has been a challenge particularly at night. Inmates with cell phones can coordinate with their accomplices outside of the prison so that they can throw it over when guards are not looking in that direction. “They work very hard at this. It is a constant challenge.”

State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told Dunn, “No one wants your job.”

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Legislature

Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes

The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.

There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.

Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.

The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.

“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”

“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”

State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.

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“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”

Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.

“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.

“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”

Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.

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House

Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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Elections

Insiders say former Rep. April Weaver is “frontrunner” for Senate District 14

Multiple GOP insiders say former Alabama State Rep. April Weaver is a frontrunner to replace State Sen. Cam Ward.

Bill Britt

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Former State Rep. April Weaver is now serving in the Trump administration.

The surprise announcement on Tuesday that State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, had been tapped by Gov. Kay Ivey to serve as director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles sent the political chattering class into overdrive with speculation of who would replace him in the state Senate.

“April Weaver is a clear frontrunner if she jumps in the race,” said a prominent Republican.

Multiple insiders echoed the same sentiment while asking not to be identified in this report to avoid the appearance of trying to influence party politics.

“I think she’s the top contender should she decide to run,” said another.

Replacing Ward, a third-term Alabama senator representing Senate District 14, requires that Ivey announce a special election to fill the vacant seat.

Weaver was a member of the Alabama House representing the 49th district from 2010 to 2020 when she resigned in May to take a position as regional director for Region IV of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration.

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If elected to the upper chamber, she would be the only Republican woman currently serving in the Senate. There are four women serving in the Senate’s Democratic caucus, all of them Black, while the Republican caucus is dominated by white men.

A career nurse, Weaver, in 2015, became the first woman in state history appointed chair of the House Health Committee. In addition to serving as chair of that committee for five legislative sessions, she also chaired the Shelby County House Delegation and as a member of the Rules, Internal Affairs, and State Government committees.

As a federal employee, Weaver cannot engage in political affairs and had no comment on the rumors.

Upon her appointment by President Donald Trump, she said: “Serving in the Alabama House of Representatives has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to represent the people of House District 49 for the past ten years.”

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She continued, “I am forever grateful for the trust and confidence they have placed in me as their Representative, and I am deeply honored to have been chosen to join the Trump Administration. I am excited to be able to use my skills and experience at a national level during this unprecedented time, and I look forward to supporting President Trump’s initiatives and serving the people of our nation.”

Weaver lives in Senate District 14.

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Economy

Report: Alabama has second lowest per capita state, local tax collections

The state’s local and state tax revenue per resident is now the second-lowest in the country.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

For the first time since the 1990s, the revenue Alabama collects from state and local taxes is no longer the lowest per capita in the country. The state’s local and state tax revenue per resident is now the second-lowest in the country. That’s according to a new report from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

The report, based on tax collections in 2018 recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that Tennesseans pay slightly less in overall state and local taxes due to a reduced tax rate on groceries there and the process of phasing out what remains of its small income tax.

According to the report, Alabamians pay $3,527 per capita — up $157 from $3,370 reported previously in 2017. The current figures listed in the report do not include the tax increase from the 2019 gas tax.

This increase is linked to stout revenue growth and increased income tax collection by the state, which coupled with Tennessee’s tax policy changes, places Alabama second on the list for lowest total state and local taxes collected per capita.

Alabama still ranks significantly lower than other states in the Southeast, who collectively are the lowest in state and local taxes in the U.S. PARCA suggests that these lower taxes partially explain Alabama’s struggle to provide public services on the same level as other states.

PARCA’s report compares Alabama per resident tax collections with other southern states like Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi.

“Mississippi, a state with less wealth and economic activity, nevertheless collects $240 more per capita than Alabama,” states the report. “If Alabama collected taxes at Mississippi’s rate, state and local governments would have an additional $1.2 billion to fund education, health care, highways, public safety, and the broad spectrum of state and local services provided.”

Alabama still maintains one of the highest tax rates in the nation for alcohol, public utilities and sales taxes.

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