Pubdate: Wed, 29 Jun 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author:  John Davis


Gov. Bob Riley's task force on prison overcrowding heard tales of woe 
Tuesday as corrections officials talked about leaky roofs, 80-hour 
workweeks and vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them.

"Overcrowding and understaffing drives most of the big issues," said 
Greg Lovelace, deputy commissioner of operations for the state 
Department of Corrections.

Lovelace and others from the department gave details regarding how a 
prison system at double its designed capacity faces trouble at almost 
every corner, from its kitchens to its sewer facilities.

The state prison system currently houses about 27,732 inmates. The 
governor formed an 11-person Prison Task Force to find ways to 
relieve overcrowding and stop inmate population growth. Tuesday 
marked the group's second meeting.

"Our operating capacity has increased by stacking beds," said 
Lovelace, noting that in some cases cells designed to hold one inmate 
are holding three and that closets have been turned into living quarters.

Lovelace told the task force that the Department of Corrections has 
no replacement schedule for equipment, and corrections officers are 
carrying weapons that are 20 years old while transporting prisoners 
in trucks that have more than 200,000 miles on them.

Kitchens in the overworked system, Lovelace said, often operate 20 
hours a day, seven days a week, a pace that is wearing out equipment 
faster than it can be replaced.

Task force member Bob Harper, a retired Lee County circuit judge, 
asked whether putting more convicts in community corrections programs 
could solve the department's problems. The short answer from DOC: No.

"It has a place in the solution, but it is not the entire solution," 
Lovelace said.

In his budget presentation to legislators earlier this year, DOC 
Commissioner Donal Campbell asked for $578 million, a figure that 
included $151 million for two new prisons that would house a total of 
4,000 inmates.

The Legislature did not take such a large budget request seriously, 
though many agree that the problems facing the department are dire.

When the Legislature reconvenes for a special session on the General 
Fund, it is expected to give DOC a supplemental appropriation of 
$20.5 million to cover payroll, inmate medical care and lawsuit expenses.

"In some way, we've got to either slow down or change the numbers or 
build new facilities," said Randy Hillman, director of the Alabama 
District Attorneys Association and a member of the task force.

Seven of the 11 members showed up Tuesday. The others were Rep. 
Victor Gaston, R-Mobile; Mike Stephens, a Birmingham businessman; 
Lynda Flynt, executive director of the Sentencing Commission; Jim 
Hill Jr., a St. Clair County district judge; and Miriam Shehane, a 
victims' advocate.
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