Don't Eliminate Rehab Funds

DECATUR DAILY- OPINION

One of the primary missions of a prison system is to rehabilitate its inmates and eventually return them to society as productive, law-abiding citizens.

In Alabama, that has become less of a priority, thanks to more budget cuts.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has a two-year, $18.7 million contract with a private company to provide substance abuse treatment and job training to hundreds of inmates.

That amount has been trimmed to $3.8 million because of what a prisons spokesman describes as budget constraints.

This is yet another bad turn of events for Alabama’s prison system.

Under the terms of the contract with GEO Reentry Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida, 750 inmates are to be enrolled in the rehabilitation and training programs for six months. After the budget cut, the number will be 325 inmates.

According to state prisons information, in 2016, 649 inmates were enrolled in the re-entry program with 575 of them receiving vocational certification, and 27 inmates earning a GED. Those enrolled are nonviolent offenders.

The inmates are enrolled at the Alabama Therapeutic and Education Facility, which provides services to men and women. Since it opened, the facility has graduated more than 5,000 people. They received substance abuse treatment, and vocational training, before being released.

Recidivism is cut by about half for offenders who successfully complete the courses, officials said. That is what prisons work toward — reducing repeat offenders — and Alabama has made strides in accomplishing that goal.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, has led efforts to reform the prison system. He points out that not spending money on rehabilitation is not a savings. The money eventually will be spent, he said, on more prison beds because inmates did not get the help they needed to avoid returning to their criminal past.

This is particularly true for offenders with addiction problems. Without treatment and vocational training, most of them will return to substance abuse.

Alabama’s General Fund, which pays for prisons among other state services, is anemic because of a lack of money. The problem, other than earmarks, is a ridiculously low property tax scale. Lawmakers have known this for decades but have refused to act because powerful business interests are content with avoiding paying their fair share of taxes.

The federal government is monitoring Alabama prisons because of the severe crowding. If the feds finally step in, the solutions likely will be more expensive than anything lawmakers approve.

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