|Alabama prison overcrowding|
By KYLE WINGFIELD
The Associated Press
Ala. (AP) -- More prison beds and increased paroles would be great, but
the long-term solution to reducing Alabama's swollen inmate population
must include changes in sentencing laws, Corrections Commissioner Donal
Campbell said Friday.
he said, the state's inmate population will continue to grow. "As
long as we have the laws that we have today, it's not going to
change," Campbell said during an interview with The Associated Press.
over a year into office, Campbell has become well versed in the statistics
that paint a staggering picture of overcrowding in Alabama's prisons. The
prison population has skyrocketed from about 5,500 inmates two decades ago
to more than 28,000 presently all crammed into lockups built to hold fewer
than half that many people.
gotten ourselves in this state in a situation that solutions to our
problems are going to be more expensive than they would have been if we
had attacked the problem on the front end," Campbell said. "We
need new beds, we need new maximum security beds, and it's still my goal
to bring new beds online."
new prison space, Campbell advocates alternative sentencing such as
community corrections. Such programs keep nonviolent offenders locked up
in their communities, with a chance to work and pay for their
incarceration and financial obligations, said state Rep. Marcel Black,
prison walls need to hold our most violent criminals," said Black, an
attorney and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "And those
that aren't violent, that would be candidates (for alternative sentences),
need to be punished. And they can be more effectively punished in my
opinion through alternative sentences such as community corrections."
The head of a prisoner advocacy group agreed.
are programs that can be implemented for a fraction of the cost that are
much more successful in terms of keeping people out of prison and putting
them in a productive mode where they're taxpayers rather than
tax-users," said Lucia Penland, director of the Alabama Prison
state Sentencing Commission has spent about four years studying Alabama's
sentencing laws and how they affect the crowding in Alabama's prisons and
jails. Black said five bills from the commission are pending before his
committee, three of them dealing with fees and fines.
Though he said he might have used the private prisons as part of the long-term solution if the state had been able to afford it, Campbell said the better remedy is to find space for inmates within the state. "We definitely need beds of our own," he said.