Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jul 2004
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2004sThe Advertiser Co.
Author: John Davis, Montgomery Advertiser


Alabama's parole population grew by 31 percent last year, the 
second-highest growth rate in the nation.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Justice shows Alabama is second 
only to North Dakota, which saw a 53-percent increase in paroles between 
2002 and 2003.

According to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, the vast majority of 
the new parolees are nonviolent offenders, with only 6 percent winding up 
back in prison.

The Alabama Department of Corrections, now at more than double its stated 
capacity, released 1,919 inmates between June 2003 and June 2004. But the 
reduction in total prisoners has carried a price tag for the department. 
According to DOC spokesman Brian Corbett, most of the inmates getting out 
early are on work release, with 40 percent of the inmates' pay going back 
to DOC. Losing its work force is costing the department millions. "It's a 
misconception that because 2,000 inmates are gone, we're better off 
budgetwise," Corbett said.

The spike in paroles follows a national trend by states trying to cut the 
cost of prisons. According to the federal report, the nation's parole 
population increased by 23,654, or 3 percent, in 2003. That's almost double 
the average growth rate since 1995.

"It's not just a money problem," said Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for Gov. 
Bob Riley. "It's a population problem."

Inmates started getting out early last year, after a push by Riley to 
lighten the load of the DOC by speeding up the parole process for 
nonviolent offenders and creating a second parole board.

"There are some prisoners that should never see the light of day, and there 
are some that are quite safe to release," said Cynthia S. Dillard, 
assistant executive director of the parole board.

The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama applauds the 
increase in releases for nonviolent offenders.

According to EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, the financial loss to 
DOC "just speaks to the need to get more people in work release." "This is 
still a prison system with nearly 27,000 prisoners that was constructed for 
half that many," Stevenson said.

Riley's office and the parole board are heartened by the low return rate of 
the inmates put on the fast track.

In the 2002-2003 financial year the state spent $14.9 million on the Board 
of Pardons and Paroles to oversee 6,153 parolees and 33,112 prisoners on 
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