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Ward Named Among Legislators of the Year by National Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks gathered for its annual Autism Law conference in San Diego at the end of October to celebrate the continued success of its strong agenda supporting those on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Law Summit is an annual “gathering of doers in the world of autism law and policy.” From what started as a small meeting of a dozen advocates 11 years ago, the Autism Law Summit has grown to bring together more than 230 autism service providers, lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, parents of children with autism and self-advocates.

Four Alabama legislators were specially recognized as legislative champions in the celebration of Alabama’s status as the 46th state to pass an autism insurance law. Sen. Cam Ward, who has a child on the autism spectrum, Sen. Tom Whatley and Senate Speaker Mac McCutcheon were honored as Legislators of the Year nationwide and memorialized their friend and colleague, Rep. Jim Patterson, who recently passed away, in his presentation as Legislator of the Year.

Alabama passed historic legislation during the 2017 session requiring insurance companies to cover some of the costs of autism therapy. The Alabama Legislature passed the legislation by a margin of 102-1 after over a decade of work on the bill.

“I was honored to be presented this award along with my colleagues and the late Representative Jim Patterson,” Ward said. “This award represents a victory for the thousands of families throughout Alabama who fought tirelessly to get better services for their loved ones.”

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Prison Numbers Omit New Additions

TIMES DAILY-

MONTGOMERY — Claims that the state prisons are at 160 percent of capacity, frequently cited by lawmakers and the state Department of Corrections as an argument for new prisons, do not take into account housing additions made at the facilities.

The TimesDaily filed a public records request with the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) for its occupancy rates for prisons when housing additions are factored into the equation.

The most recent occupancy rate — 160 percent systemwide and used in the ongoing argument that the state needs new prisons — does not include additions added to the facilities after their original construction. That’s because, the ADOC says, added beds don’t mean added infrastructure.

For example, included in that 160 percent average is the Decatur Work Center. According to an August ADOC report, the center was built for 37 inmates, but housed 331, an occupancy rate of 894 percent, the highest in the system. The Decatur Work Release Center is listed separately from the Work Center in the statistical report, with an occupancy rate of 246 percent.

Those numbers don’t include a 340-bed dorm added to the facility in 2008, bringing the bed capacity to 505.

“Today, the facility reports 525 inmates assigned for an operational capacity rate of 104 percent,” ADOC spokesman Bob Horton said last week.

The TimesDaily requested similar rates for all prisons and was told because of the amount of research required, a public records request was needed.

Meanwhile, Horton and others say the 160 percent occupancy rate is accurate.

“ADOC reports inmate crowding percentages based on the facility’s original architectural design capacity,” Horton said in response to questions last week. “The inmate population percentage today is 160 percent based on an inmate population of 21,306 with a design capacity of 13,318.

"Although we have added additional bed space at some facilities, we do not include those numbers in the design capacity because the facilities infrastructure to support the increase in bed space remained unchanged,” Horton said.

That infrastructure includes things like administrative areas, security, food service, utilities, space for rehabilitation and programing, and health care delivery, Horton said.

“(The occupancy rates have) been a source of debate,” Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said last week.

He’s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and for two years has sponsored legislation to allow for the building of new prisons to replace most of the 17 largest prisons, at a significant cost to the state.

Ward said he thinks the reported rates at the state’s maximum- and medium-security prisons – the ones high on the list for replacement -- are correct.

“Most of the state prisons, because they haven’t done any additions in years, are pretty accurate,” he said.

If the ADOC doesn’t expand a facility’s medical care or cafeteria space, it isn’t expanding true capacity, Ward said.

“I haven’t seen one that’s expanded those, which is why we're in so much trouble with the courts,” he said.

A federal judge this year declared mental health treatment in Alabama prisons to be "horrendously inadequate." The state and plaintiffs in the lawsuit are now working through a process to try to correct the problems, which will include additional staffing and space.

Ward expects the fix to cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Prison plan

ADOC officials earlier this month said the agency is seeking a company to develop a master plan for building new prisons and improving others. All correctional facilities, including work release and work centers, will be assessed.

Gov. Kay Ivey has said getting a private company to build several large prisons to lease to the state is one option to solve the crowding problem. Efforts to get lawmakers to borrow up to $800 million to build several megaprisons have failed in the last two sessions, in part because lawmakers were concerned about the debt.

Ivey has said she’s looking at options that don’t need legislative approval, which would include short-term leases.

Some state lawmakers said last week they expect Ivey and the ADOC to include lease options in prison plans moving forward, even if they don’t have to sign off on it.

“Since prisons are a big part of the General Fund budget and as we look at options, even if we don’t have to pass something, I think we’re going to be part of the talks,” Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said.

He’s on the Senate General Fund and judiciary committees.

Stutts said he wants to see the pros and cons of building or leasing prisons.

He also wants more information about the occupancy rates when additions are included, and how the system went from 192 percent occupancy a few years ago to 160 today.

ADOC officials credit sentencing reforms for a reduction of several thousand prisoners in recent years.

Similarly, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, also on both the General Fund and judiciary committees, said he’d like to see the expanded capacity numbers. He thinks lawmakers will need to see the details of any prison plan that calls for a long-term investment by the state.

“Because we’re going to be funding prisons, I think there should be some involvement by the Legislature,” Orr said.

Crowding issues, low staffing and acts of violence within the prisons have been well documented in recent years. In 2016, a guard was killed by inmates.

The department recently removed staffing statistics from its monthly reports until it completes a new staffing level assessment, which is ongoing, Horton said.

Earlier this year, an analysis of the 17 largest facilities showed a multitude of problems, including fire safety and electrical system reliability.

It also said except at six major facilities, “the perimeter security measures at ADOC facilities are significantly under par.”

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Sen Ward Awards Grant for New Classroom Equipment

CLANTON ADVERTISER---

Chilton County High School has received a $3,151 grant from Sen. Cam Ward for lab tables.

Ward presented a check to the school on Oct. 31.

“I take requests throughout the year and look at where the need is greatest,” Ward said.

Kayla Cantley applied for the grant on behalf of Nikki Maddox for her Project Lead the Way engineering class.

Cantley said she received a grant last year for tables, and Maddox was using her old tables that were in disrepair and really needed to be replaced.

Cantley explained that while the school does get Title 1 funds for some equipment, it cannot be used for furniture.

To help get funds to replace the tables, Maddox wrote a grant request letter and emailed it to Ward.

“He’s really responsive and quick to help if he can,” Cantley said.

“The teacher contacted me, and I had just enough left in grants,” Ward said.

Maddox was unable to be at school for the presentation, so the funds were accepted by Amy Easterling, a math teacher at CCHS.

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Governor Ivey Looks at New Prison Options

Decatur Daily--

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Corrections and Gov. Kay Ivey want to hire a project manager to assess construction needs within the state’s prison system, a possible first step toward seeking private entities to build several large facilities the state could then lease.

A request for qualifications was issued Friday and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the state is considering leasing from private builders several large prisons in order to address the crowding situation in current facilities.

“It’s a state prison in every sense of the word, except we don’t own the property,” Ward said.

The move comes after efforts in the Alabama Legislature to borrow up to $800 million to create mega prisons have failed in the last two years, in part because of concerns about the amount of debt.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the request for qualifications will allow an independent team of experts to develop a plan to address the current and future prison needs.

“It is clear that we have serious infrastructure needs within our prison system, and we need to make decisions on correcting these issues,” Dunn said in a written statement. “Today we are taking a large step toward doing just that. This plan will provide a blueprint for long-term fixes to this generational problem.”

The project management team should be in place by mid-December.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said it will be good to have a more information about what’s needed to fix the prison problem.

“It’s good to look into it and see what your needs are – but once you do, you better be ready to address those needs,” Melson, who represents portions of Lauderdale, Limestone and Madison counties, said. “Master plans are great if you follow them.”

Ivey for months has said all options are on the table while looking for a solution to the crowded prison issue, and some of them didn’t require the Legislature’s approval. The governor can’t enter into debt on behalf of the state but she can enter into agreements with third parties to lease facilities – on a short-term basis.

Earlier this year, a bill that would have allowed the state to lease three prisons from entities around the state said the leases would be on a year-to-year basis. It also capped the rent at $13.5 million per facility per year. That bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.

Ward said the current conversation is for three large men’s prisons and leaving Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women open. Previous plans called for a new women’s facility, but Ward said improvements have been made at Tutwiler.

“Even groups who have sued the state agree Tutwiler is much better off than it was,” Ward said.

The state has been plagued with acts of violence in its crowded and outdated prisons. Meanwhile, officials say they can’t hire corrections officers willing to work in the dangerous facilities.

As of August, ADOC’s close-security facilities, including Limestone Correctional Facility, had an occupancy rate of 140 percent. Its medium-security facilities were at nearly 181 percent capacity. The ADOC’s most recent monthly statistical reports no longer list staffing data, but a June report said the major facilities had about 42 percent of staff they’re authorized to employ.

The large prisons will likely be major employers and the state will decide where they’re located.

“There will be a lot of competition for these,” Ward said.

It was former Gov. Robert Bentley who in 2016 first proposed borrowing $800 million to build three new men’s prisons and one for women. That plan and subsequent re-writes called for the closure of most existing facilities. However, some lawmakers have indicated that Limestone, built in 1984, should remain open. Ward on Friday said he thought that was still a possibility.

But Limestone is not without significant problems. An analysis earlier this year of 17 ADOC facilities shows a multitude of problems, including fire safety and electrical system reliability.

At Limestone, the locks appeared to be the most significant issue.

“The age of the locks is causing a maintenance problem, and the facility has lost confidence in the security of the locks in places,” according to the report.

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Sen Ward Speaks to Clanton Middle School About Consequences of Drug Abuse

CLANTON ADVERTISER---

State Sen. Cam Ward spoke to Clanton Middle School students about the dangers of drug abuse during a Red Ribbon Week assembly on Oct. 24.

Red Ribbon Week focuses on keeping students drug free through awareness and asking them to sign pledges to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

He said it is not a popular topic, but it is a very important one.

As the nature of drug abuse has changed over the years, so has the way it is talked about, Ward said.

He stressed that those addicted to drugs are no longer the stereotypical homeless person just trying to get the next fix. Instead, drug abuse has impacted people at every income level and background.

“Drugs do not discriminate,” Ward said.

He said illegal drugs are more powerful now than they have been in the past, and a person can become addicted after using just one time.

“Almost everyone here knows someone or has a loved one who has a drug problem,” Ward said. “It is a disease. A lot of times a person who is doing drugs wants to quit. They don’t want to do it anymore, but because of what the drug does to the brain, they can’t (quit).”

“People will respect you for standing up for your beliefs and what’s right and what’s wrong,” Ward said.

Many start abusing drugs because it makes them feel good. Ward said this feeling doesn’t last, and then the person is taking more drugs or drinking more alcohol to reach the good feeling that they want.

“It’s a dark road … you reach a point where you lose touch with what’s important,” Ward said.

While Ward said addiction is a disease, he said starting to use drugs is a choice.

“What feels good now can kill you later, ” Ward said.

He said if the decision not to do drugs “costs you your friends … you are better because of it.”

He warned students not to listen to anyone who tells them they have to use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs to be successful in life.

“Everyone’s destiny is determined by their actions,” Ward said.

He encouraged students not to be afraid to talk about the pressure they may be experiencing to do drug and the issues they face related to a family member that is dealing with drug abuse.

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Sen Ward Supports Jemison & Thorsby FFA

CLANTON ADVERTISER--

Sen. Cam Ward presented a $2,000 check to Future Farmers of America sponsor Clay Mims and Jemison High School Principal Diane Calloway on Oct. 12.

Ward’s donation will be used for travel expenses for FFA members of JHS to attend the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis on Oct. 25-28.

“He talked to us about our FFA program being one of two in his district that is the most active, and how much he enjoys when our students go down to Montgomery to visit with him — how well received they are and how respectful they are, and those kind of things,” Calloway said.

FFA has been a thriving organization at JHS for about as long as the school has been in existence, Calloway said.

“They are very active. They’re very active in the competitions that they do. They’re in the judging competitions,” Calloway said. “They just went to a competition this past weekend at the fair — they were in the goat competitions and the showcase and that kind of thing. Those are the things that they’re very active in.”

Regarding Ward’s donation, Calloway emphasized “how much we appreciate and how much our programs do benefit from the contributions that our representatives and [other such donors] give to us. Our schools need those funds — being rural schools, it takes a lot. And their contributions certainly help.”

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Senator Ward Elected Chairman of National Energy Group

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Center for Legislative Energy and Environmental Research (CLEER) installed Alabama State Senator Cam Ward as its new chairman for 2017-2018 at its annual meeting on Sunday, September 17. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson was on hand in Little Rock for the event with Sen. Ward. CLEER is an affiliate of The Energy Council, a legislative organization of twelve energy-producing American states and two Canadian provinces.

“I am honored to be selected chairman of such a distinguished research group. Along with my CLEER colleagues from across the country, I will continue to promote an energy and environmental policy that strengthens the United States’ position as the world’s leader in the delivery of electricity, natural gas, and energy resources,” Ward said. “I want to thank New Mexico State Senator Carroll Leavell for the tremendous job he’s done as the past chairman of CLEER.”

Ward is well-prepared for his new role. The go-to legislator on Alabama energy, Ward previously served as Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Joint Oversight Committee on Energy Policy, and was previously Chairman of the Energy & Transportation Committee for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Formed in 1975, The Energy Council, whose advisory board is comprised of more than fifty North American energy-related companies, university professors, environmental experts and trade associations, hosts roundtable discussions around the nation featuring industry experts and advises legislators on technical matters regarding the development of energy policy.

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Alabama Prisons Face Costly Remedy on Mental Health Care

AL.COM- MIKE CASON

A lawmaker who has led prison reform efforts in Alabama estimates it will take an extra $30 million a year to improve mental health treatment in prisons to fix what a federal judge found is an unconstitutionally poor system of care.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, presided over a meeting of the Joint Legislative Prison Committee today. The committee got an update on the federal court case.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in June that mental health care in Alabama prisons is "horrendously inadequate," so poor that it violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Thompson ordered the state and the lawyers representing inmates into mediation to find a remedy.

Two weeks ago, Thompson ordered the state and plaintiffs to submit a joint proposal on immediate and long-term relief for understaffing of mental health and correctional staff by Oct. 9.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in 2014, include the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.

Thompson conducted a trial in late 2016 and early 2017 and found that the prison system failed to identify many mentally ill prisoners and failed to adequately treat those who were diagnosed. The judge found that prisoners were punished and placed in segregation for symptoms of their mental illnesses. He found suicidal prisoners were not adequately treated and monitored. The prison system failed to provide hospital-level care for prisoners who needed it, Thompson wrote. Understaffing of mental health professionals and of correctional officers were overarching problems, Thompson found, as was chronic overcrowding.

SPLC attorney Maria Morris told the Joint Legislative Prison Committee today that mental health counselors in Alabama prisons have caseloads of 100 to 150 people, about twice the number they should have. Morris said the number of inmates needing mental health care could possibly double.

Morris said it would take an estimated $20 million to hire the additional mental health staff needed. Morris said that was a rough estimate and probably on the low side.

Ward agreed that her estimate was probably low.

"I think probably, realistically, you're looking at close to $30 million more in the Corrections budget to deal with the mental health staffing," Ward said.

Morris estimated it could cost $100 million a year or more to fix the shortage of corrections officers. Morris said that was a rough estimate. She said as of June, the number of corrections officers employed by the Department of Corrections was just 41 percent of an "authorized" staff number.

Ward said he was uncertain about the cost of fixing the shortage of corrections officers.

Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn told the committee that the DOC is working to find a remedy for mental health care that is "both responsive to the court and respectful of taxpayers."

"We're going to do that with every ounce that we can muster and we're going to provide what we believe is a constitutionally acceptable solution to the issues that we're challenged with and then we're going to seek the partnership of the Legislature to move forward on that," Dunn said.

Dunn said the prison population continues to decline. The Legislature passed sentencing guidelines that took effect in 2013 and criminal justice reforms in 2015. Dunn said the population is down about 4,000 inmates over the last three and a half years. At one time, prisons were filled to almost twice their designed capacity.

As of June, state prisons housed 21,888 inmates in facilities designed for 13,318, an occupancy rate of 165 percent.

But Dunn said the prevalence of violence, contraband and drugs in prisons remains at critically high levels.

Ward said the cost of correcting the prison problem will be the single biggest challenge facing the Legislature when it returns in January.

"But we can't say we didn't see this coming," Ward said. "We've been talking about this for years, that there's going to be a problem and there's going to be a train wreck. And it's in front of us now."

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Sen Ward's Bill Stops Revolving Door on Mental Health Inmates

By Samantha Scotti

Nearly two-thirds of all prisoners are addicted to drugs or alcohol. After being released, they are at a very high risk of using again. Inmates also report having higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV and mental health problems than the general population.

Medicaid doesn’t cover the health care  costs of inmates inside jails or prisons, except for inpatient hospital or nursing home care for those who qualify. States are responsible for the health care costs of inmates in state prisons, just as localities pay for care in county jails. Providing that care can be expensive.

States spent $8.1 billion on health care in correctional facilities during fiscal year 2015, with a median expense of $5,720 per inmate, according to a soon-to-be-released report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

When prisoners stay healthy, states’ budgets stay healthier too.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition

Eventually, 95 percent of all inmates are released from state prison systems, and their successful transition can depend on having appropriate care and treatment services available. Achieving and maintaining healthy and productive lifestyles increases former inmates’ chances of finding work, successfully reintegrating into their communities and staying out of prison.

This is particularly true for inmates who have mental health or substance use disorders. Without health care coverage, many of them are released without the ability to get the medicines they need.

Jails vs. Prisons

Jails typically house people awaiting trial and inmates convicted of misdemeanors who are serving sentences of less than one year. In most states, they are run by counties or cities. Prisons house convicted inmates serving sentences of more than one year. Both experience similar inmate health care challenges.

Obtaining health insurance, or at least access to routine health care services, has long posed challenges for prisoners after their release. When former inmates don’t find coverage, states often end up paying for their expensive, but often avoidable, health care and social services needs down the road.

In the District of Columbia and the 31 states that have recently expanded their eligibility requirements under the Affordable Care Act, many former inmates now qualify for Medicaid.

Lawmakers and agency heads in several states have worked hard to find ways to connect inmates with affordable health care or Medicaid before they get out to ensure there is continuity of care. At least nine states have programs that begin the Medicaid application process early enough to have the inmate’s enrollment ready the day of his or her release. Efforts like these often require good communication and coordination between the department of corrections and the state Medicaid program.

Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, for example, works with the state’s Department of Medicaid to help inmates obtain a Medicaid managed care plan at least 90 to 100 days before their release. When released, they have a care coordinator to help them find a primary care doctor, make and confirm appointments, and learn about urgent care, health care specialists and transportation benefits.

“This program has allowed thousands of Ohioans to transition back to the community with their health care already in place,” says Ohio Department of Medicaid Director Barbara Sears.

Suspend Rather Than Terminate

Lawmakers in at least 35 states and the District of Columbia have taken a slightly different approach to ensuring a continuum of care for released prisoners. They have adopted policies that suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid for inmates while they’re incarcerated, though some do so only temporarily.

Suspension allows Medicaid coverage and services to resume immediately upon release from prison, avoiding the lengthy reapplication process—which can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days and leave former inmates without services while waiting to be re-enrolled. Suspension also can save on administrative costs related to the Medicaid reapplication and eligibility determination process.

Attacking Addiction

High rates of substance abuse among inmates have motivated some states to look for ways to decrease the likelihood of inmates relapsing when they get out, which right now is very likely. Twenty states self-report that they offer, as one option, some form of medication-assisted treatment (from dispensing medications to referring inmates to clinics that dispense them). Approved medications—naltrexone, methadone, buprenorphine, etc.—have been shown to prevent drug or alcohol relapses.

Alabama lawmakers passed Medicaid-suspension legislation this year “to stop the revolving door for people with serious mental illnesses in our jails and prisons, and to reduce prison medical costs to the state,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Cam Ward (R), says. “In short, if the state terminates Medicaid coverage upon incarceration, the state loses the ability to shift the costs to the federal government,” since funding for Medicaid is a shared state-federal responsibility.

Ensuring that ex-offenders don’t have to worry about how and where to get health coverage after their release helps them readjust to life in their communities, says Sears, the Ohio Medicaid director. It’s “one less stressor for them.”

And who wouldn’t want less stress?

Samantha Scotti is a policy associate in NCSL’s Health Program​.

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Great Teachers Make Great Students

BY SENATOR CAM WARD

Over the past few years, I have made it a point to visit elementary and high school classrooms across Senate District 14. The passion of the teachers I meet never fails to inspire me. For many teachers, education is both a career and a calling to shape the lives of young people. Most educators work long hours, taking papers and tests home with them to grade after dinner with their own family.

The impact that a great teacher has on a young person’s life is fairly dramatic. According to research by the economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, a student who has a strong fourth-grade teacher is 1.25 percent more likely to go to college than if she has a weak fourth-grade teacher. Students with a strong fourth-grade teacher will earn, on average, $25,000 more over their lifetime than students with poor teachers. (The authors found similar effects for teachers across all elementary and middle school grades.) Taken in the aggregate, the impact an excellent teacher has on an entire classroom is quite profound. The trajectories of dozens of young people can be altered for the better by a passionate, engaged and knowledgeable educator.

As a legislator, one of my top priorities has been supporting great teachers. For each of the past seven years, I have co-sponsored proposals to give public school teachers a pay raise, and fortunately, in 2016 the Legislature was able to come to an agreement on a four percent raise for most educators. I am continuing to work hard to find a fiscally sustainable pathway for giving another pay raise to teachers in the 2018 Legislative Session that starts in January, and if the state budget’s condition allows it, I will also advocate to increase the financial resources available to special education teachers.

The academic research verifies what each parent knows intuitively: a great teacher can have a huge impact on the life of a child. So let us continue to celebrate the profession of teaching and find innovative ways to reward the great teachers in our classrooms; and may many of our brightest students aspire to become teachers themselves – for what other profession molds the dreams and aspirations of so many?

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