Pubdate: Mon, 16 Dec 2002
Source: Alexander City Outlook, The (AL)
Copyright: 2002 The Alexander City Outlook


Tallapoosa County Sheriff Jimmy Abbett was just one of the county law 
enforcement officials this week who took prisoners to the state 
penitentiary to relieve his own overcrowded jail.

A day later a circuit judge upheld the sheriff's actions but made future 
drop offs to be announced with 72 hours notice.

The recent actions highlight a growing problem that will continue to fester 
unless current Gov. Don Siegelman, the Alabama Legislature and/or new Gov. 
Bob Riley take immediate action.

Alabama will likely face federal court intervention telling it to resolve 
its overcrowding issues in county and state facilities unless more beds are 
made available in the state prison system.

While that sounds like a simple answer, the problem is funding, or the lack 
thereof. Alabama's prison system, which spends up to $14,000 a year to 
house inmates, is broke. It has too few beds to house criminals. It has no 
money to build a new facility, nor does it have a large enough budget to 
hire new correctional officers.

Overcrowded cells are already proving to be dangerous for prison guards and 
officials estimate with the influx of the new county inmates, the 
overcrowding situation will only intensify. State officials fear a major 
prison riot could occur due overcrowded conditions unless something is done.

Suggestions have ranged from housing less violent criminals at revamped 
federal buildings that have been abandoned at former military bases like 
those in Anniston, Selma and Montgomery. That makes sense and could be done 
quickly and with much less expense than building anew facility. We believe 
this route would be less expensive to the prison system and provide 
temporary relief - much like a half-way house - until sentencing parameters 
can be structured to release non-violent criminals to these areas. 
Facilities like Camp Alexander City, the local work release center, are 
full as well. As many as 300-plus men sleep in the same barracks with bunk 
beds less than two feet apart.

The Siegelman administration still has time to relieve this overcrowding 
situation with makeshift accommodations at these former federal facilities, 
now controlled by the cities.

Immediate action might save lives and protect guards being put in harm's way.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart