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Ward Wants to Fix Judiciary

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

State Sen. Cam Ward is still trying to fix Alabama’s judicial system.

He doesn’t put it that way. The Republican state senator from Shelby County instead just keeps saying he has a problem with this thing or that thing, and he wants to fix it all.

Like charging 13- and 14-year-olds court costs and fees. That’s a thing Ward wants to fix.

Because we do that in Alabama — charge 13-year-olds court costs. We hit juveniles with some of the same fees that we charge adults. Except, adults have jobs and various means to repay those costs. Children don’t.


So, here’s what happens: Those unpaid fees assessed to juveniles remain with them until adulthood, gathering interest and other fees all the while. By the time the kid is 17 or 18 and able to get a job, he or she either can’t get hired because of the credit knocks or the payback options suck up most of the minimum wage pay.

“It’s just a terrible way to do things and you’re setting these kids up to fail,” Ward said this week. “It makes no sense to charge these kids with court costs and fees. Restitution, I understand. Make people pay for their crimes, I’m all for that. But we don’t need to fund government on the backs of kids.”

Making that change is part of a sweeping bill Ward plans to introduce next week in the Senate judiciary committee that he chairs. Much of the bill’s substance originated directly from recommendations gathered by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Task Force, which studied the state’s juvenile system, gathered suggestions from those who work in and around it and made several proposals in December.

But the judicial changes being proposed by Ward won’t stop with only that bill.

In all, he has 10 different bills that deal with some matter within Alabama’s justice system, and six that deal directly with court funding issues.

Most of those six bills have one goal in mind: “The goal is to finally determine what constitutes an indigent individual … and stop the issuing of fines or jail time to people who can’t pay,” Ward said.

Municipalities jailing indigent people simply because they can’t pay a fine has caused a number of problems for cities across Alabama, including in Montgomery, where a municipal court judge was removed from the bench by the Judicial Inquiry Commission over the practice. The city was also successfully sued in federal court, and it was shamed into breaking ties with a private probation company.

Ward’s bill aims to once and for all end that practice, allowing mayors to remit fines for the indigent and providing more leeway in imposing sentences.

“I have a problem with hitting those who can least afford it with a bunch of fees because we didn’t do the right thing,” Ward said. “That’s what this boils down to — a bunch of us, and I’m to blame right there with everyone else, took the easy way and started tacking on fines to pay for services (instead of raising taxes).”

Those fines come in the way of arbitrary court costs that often have no rhyme or reason, and even the judges who impose them often can’t tell you where the money goes. They’re the reason that a $25 speeding ticket costs $250 and that filing a complaint in any court costs $250-plus in most counties, effectively eliminating the judicial system as a means of poor people solving their disputes.

“What happens,” Ward said, “is that you’ll get county commissioners coming to legislators — they’ve come to me — and asking for funding, but they don’t want to ask for a tax because of the way it looks. So they ask for a dollar fee. And we’ve gone along with it.”

Of course, that reality poses another problem for Ward: While what he’s doing is indisputably the right thing, those fees are in place to prop up some portion of our courts or county government. Removing those fees from the indigent and juveniles will cost an already severely underfunded court system money.

Ward believes he can make up some of the lost funding through small tweaks, such as better oversight and more uniformity between the counties. One of those changes, in another bill sponsored by Ward, will be to allow private judges to hear more cases if both sides of a dispute agree.

But that won’t cover it all, and at some point Alabama will have to decide if it wants to fund its legal system.

“We’re going to have to have revenue from somewhere,” Ward said. “There’s no way around that.”

The prospect of raising taxes to do so — a mortal sin in conservative politics — doesn’t seem to scare Ward.

“We need to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

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AL Senator Introduces Bill to Crack Down on Human Trafficking

Alabama State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is expected to introduce a bill Tuesday designed to impose heavy penalties on anyone who obstructs human trafficking investigations.

“Human trafficking is a growing problem not just in Alabama, but around the country,” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “Particularly human trafficking in young kids, which is often for the purpose of sexual abuse.”

Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern day slavery “involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion,” according to Polaris, a non-profit that tracks human trafficking.

The average age of victims’ entry into sex trafficking is between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force’s online fact sheet.

Ward said that under current Alabama law, active engagement in human trafficking is a Class A felony, but penalties are much less strict for those who may not be directly involved in trafficking — but who know about trafficking activity and obstruct law enforcement from investigating.

In Alabama, Ward said such obstruction is currently classified as a Class C felony, which is punishable by a minimum amount of time in prison.

Ward said his proposed legislation would change that and provide a stronger deterrent to anyone engaged with or associated with the crime.

“Oftentimes, those who are obstructing justice in these human trafficking cases are just as guilty as those who are actually participating in it,” Ward said. “In the new law, to know about it and intentionally obstruct the prosecution of these cases, then you’re treated the same as the person who was directly involved in the trafficking.”

Human trafficking statistics are “sparse and almost non-existent” because of the underground nature of the crime and because human trafficking cases are sometimes mistaken for other crimes such as assault, said Patricia McCay, secretary of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

Cases have been reported in Montgomery County, Birmingham, Fort Payne, Madison County, Huntsville, Albertville, Guntersville, Dothan and Mobile, according to the task force’s EnditAlabama.org fact sheet.

Experts estimate human trafficking is a $150 billion per year industry and that activity is particularly rampant along the I-65 and I-20 corridors because of their connections to major ports and cities.

Though not a comprehensive measurement tool, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that they received 111 calls that referenced Alabama in 2017 and that 36 human trafficking cases were reported to them in connection to the state.

Ward is chairman of the judiciary committee and said he plans to have the bill reviewed by his committee on Wednesday. He expects it to sail through without opposition.

“You’d be hard pressed to be against this,” he said. “It’s a big profit maker for those engaged in it and it’s a real sad story. This is something we should always make a priority to crack down on.”

State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) will sponsor a similar bill in the House, Ward said.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

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Issues to Watch in the 2018 Session

By Brian Lyman- MONTGOMERY — Alabama lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday to begin the 2018 legislative session. Here are seven issues to watch throughout the session.

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Prison spending

Alabama is facing a court order to improve conditions in its prisons after a federal judge last year ruled that mental health care was "horrendously inadequate." State lawmakers this session will deal with the price tag of trying to comply with the ruling against the state.

The prison system is seeking an additional $80 million over the next two years to boost staffing and pay for an expanded health care contract. The judge found a lack of staff was a significant contributor to the poor conditions.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison system needs to add as many as 1,000 corrections officers.

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Children's Health Insurance Program

A major budgetary question mark for lawmakers — and one with ramifications for tens of thousands of Alabama children — is the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides subsidized health insurance for children in lower-income working families.

Congress so far has only funded the program through March. House Ways and Means Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said called it the "big unknown" for the session.

If the program is discontinued, 84,000 children in Alabama would lose health insurance. CHIP also provides 100 percent of the funding for another 77,000 Alabama children enrolled in the state's Medicaid program. The state, by law, would have to pay the normal Medicaid matching rate for the coverage. Clouse estimated that would cost the state $40 million to $45 million and cast "a shadow" over the whole general fund.

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Day care regulations

Some lawmakers are expected to make another attempt at requiring all day care centers to be regulated and end a widespread exemption for facilities that claim a religious affiliation.

Alabama is one of seven states that broadly exempt faith-based day cares from regulation, according to VOICES for Alabama's Children. The result is about that half of day care facilities are without state oversight. The Department of Human Resources says 933 out of 981 licensed day care centers claim a church exemption.

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Ethics law revisions

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is working on a proposed revamp of state ethics laws. While the bill is still in the works, a spokesman for Marshall said, "the ethics reform bill will strengthen the existing ethics law by closing loopholes that have come to light since it was passed, as well as providing additional clarity and simplification."

Alabama Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton said his office is seeking to give the commission more flexibility in the way fines are imposed and enforced.

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Permitless carry

Lawmakers are expected to again debate legislation to allow people to carry a handgun without getting a concealed carry permit. The bill cleared the Senate last year but stalled in the House. The bill has created tricky territory for some Republicans in the Alabama Legislature as it pits two groups they traditionally like to support: gun rights groups and law enforcement. The National Rifle Association lobbied for the bill last year, but it came under heavy opposition from law enforcement officers.

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Juvenile justice

Alabama lawmakers preapproved a package of sentencing reforms for adult offenders. This year they could turn their attention to juvenile offenders. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he plans to introduce a bill that would try to create alternative sentencing paths for certain juvenile offenders instead of locking them up.

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Teacher pay raise

Alabama lawmakers could debate a pay increase for teachers and other education employees.

Alabama lawmakers will also go straight from the Statehouse to the campaign trail since 2018 is an election year. The backdrop of looming elections is expected to influence what bills get introduced and what gets left on the cutting room floor.

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Recommended Juvenile Justice Reforms Could Transform Alabama

By Cameron Smith cameron@smithstrategies.org


Whenever I hear an Alabama politician announce another task force, my soul dies a little. Typically, these task forces are designed to help politicians who need credit for doing something without actually changing anything. The Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force (AJJTF), however, looks like it has proposed a few great ideas--and done so in a timely fashion. It's now up to the Alabama Legislature to turn those recommendations into reality.

Senate Joint Resolution 78 established the AJJTF in April of 2017. It's clear task is to review the state's juvenile justice system and develop evidence-based policy recommendations for the legislature. The AJJTF has done just that in less than a year's time.

I've been privileged to work on criminal justice policies with my colleagues at the R Street Institute. Over the last several years, the political right and left have found real common ground on justice reform issue. The recommendations from the AJJTF aren't an exception to that trend. They're based on national research, information from state juvenile probation officers (JPOs), roundtables throughout the state and input from hundreds of people who want to improve our juvenile justice system.

Here are a couple of big picture takeaways:

Alabama needs to keep lower-level youthful offenders out of the juvenile justice system and reserve out-of-home detention for dangerous offenders.
In many instances, neither the ends of justice nor the people of Alabama are served by separating minors from their families and putting them into detention. Such a response ought to be reserved for the most serious offenders. Alabama must develop consistent, clear, evidence-based criteria for removing a child from his or her home that limits the practice to the most egregious cases.

At the same time, we need consistent accountability for all juveniles who break the law. Empowering judges and JPOs with community-based alternatives will help move lower-level youth offenders in a more productive direction.

The state must allocate resources to protect the public in a fiscally responsible manner.
Keeping juveniles in a detention facility is extremely expensive in terms of direct costs. According to the AJJTF's report, "out-of-home placement for committed youth costs the state up to $161,694 per youth per year."

The economic loss from recidivism, lost future earnings, and increased dependency on government services is far greater. A 2014 report by the Justice Policy Institute pegs the national cost of confining youthful offenders at "an additional $8 billion to $21 billion each year."

The state must also reconsider raising revenue from youthful offenders themselves. While youthful offenders need to fairly compensate their victims for any economic loss imposed, we don't need to saddle them with state-imposed fines, fees, and other costs that only serve to create more potential liability for them.

Alabama must increase transparency, enhance data collection, and invest in evidence-based programs in our communities.
This is the part nobody likes to talk about, but we need to make reasonable investments now to improve outcomes in the future. None of this is easy, but JPOs and other personnel in the juvenile justice system need the resources to do what works. That's really all that "evidence-based" means. The state collects information, we find out what works best, and then help kids heading down the wrong path while strengthening and protecting our communities.

In all, the AJJTF has 48 policy recommendations that the legislature and governor ought to consider seriously. We should have thorough discussions about them, work them through the process and radically modify our juvenile justice system.

This is as righteous a political cause as we're going to find, and it's fiscally prudent. We're moving away from a "big government" approach to juvenile justice towards something that can work for both victims of crimes and offenders with their whole lives ahead of them. Here's a chance for Alabama to make some real changes that will have an incredible impact on our future.

Along with Alabama Senate and House leadership, Governor Kay Ivey, state Senator Cam Ward, and Chief Justice Lyn Stuart deserve a lot of credit for moving these ideas forward. Hopefully the Alabama Legislature will succeed in building on those efforts this session.

Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

 

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Juvenile Justice Task Force Releases Findings

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, state Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, and members of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force on Dec. 18 announced the release of policy recommendations that protect public safety, hold youth accountable, control costs and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities in Alabama.

“We know there are proven ways to change Alabama’s juvenile justice system for the better,” said Ward who co-chaired the Task Force. “Together we can create a better juvenile justice system that shifts young people away from criminal behavior so that they do not move into the adult corrections system.”

If adopted, the state reforms project to reduce the state’s out-of-home juvenile population by 45 percent from projected levels by 2023, freeing more than $34 million in state funds over five years for reinvestment into local programs in the community. The Task Force’s recommendations will provide a foundation for legislation that will be considered during the 2018 session.

“These data-driven recommendations will equip local communities with the resources needed to protect public safety and improve our juvenile justice system,” Fridy said. “By redirecting state dollars into community-based programs that keep families together and are shown to work, we can ensure that we are using taxpayer dollars to get stronger results.”

After months of data analysis, stakeholder outreach, and policy assessment, the Task Force found that lower-level youth make up the majority of the juvenile justice population, and that two-thirds of youth in the custody of the Department of Youth Services are committed for non-felonies. It also found that judges and juvenile probation officers lack access to evidence-based services that hold youth accountable and strengthen families in their own communities; and, DYS out-of-home placements cost taxpayers as much as $161,694 per youth per year despite research showing poor public safety returns, especially for lower-level youth.

Sen. Ward initiated the establishment of the Task Force last spring along with Gov. Kay Ivey, Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, and other state leaders. The Task Force conducted a thorough, months-long examination of the state’s juvenile justice system data. The Task Force included Alabamians from both parties and all three branches of government representing a diverse group of legislators, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, educators, and others. Specifically, the Task Force made recommendations to:

  • Keep lower-level youth from unnecessary involvement in the juvenile justice system through early interventions and swift, consistent responses.
  • Protect public safety and more effectively allocate taxpayer dollars by focusing system resources on youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety.
  • Establish and sustain public safety outcomes through increased system accountability and reinvestment into evidence-based programs in local communities.

In addition to Sen. Ward and Rep. Fridy, the Task Force includes:

  • Senator Cam Ward, 14th District (co-chair)
  • Representative Jim Hill, 50th District (co-chair)
  • Judge Bob Bailey, 15th Judicial Circuit
  • Daryl Bailey, District Attorney, Montgomery County
  • Lynn Beshear, Commissioner, Department of Mental Health
  • Gar Blume, Defense Attorney, Blume & Blume Attorneys at Law, PC
  • Christy Cain deGraffenried, Executive Director, Alabama Children First
  • William Califf, Designee, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh
  • Derrick Cunningham, Sheriff, Montgomery County
  • Representative Matt Fridy, 73rd District
  • Senator Vivian Figures, 33rd District
  • Judge Adrian Johnson, 2nd Judicial Circuit
  • Steven Lafreniere, Executive Director, Department of Youth Services
  • Jim Loop, Deputy Director, Department of Human Resources
  • Cary McMillian, Director, Family Court Division, Administrative Office of Courts
  • Judge David Money, Henry County Commissioner, Designee, Association of County Commissions of Alabama
  • Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, Alabama Supreme Court
  • Dr. Kay Atchinson Warfield, Education Administrator, Alabama State Department of Education
  • Andrew Westcott, Designee, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon
  • Dave White, Designee, Governor Kay Ivey
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A Positive Note in Prison Debate

By Sen. Cam Ward & Rep. Matt Fridy

The news surrounding the Alabama corrections system seems to be one negative story after another with much of the focus on the need for reform and consolidation in the system as well as higher quality of service and better outcomes.  Much of this is true and is a result of inadequate funding, not because of poor leadership or management.  In fact, we would argue that ADOC has some of the best leadership under Commissioner Jeff Dunn and his team that we have had in some time.  They are tackling the bigger problems and looking for ways to solve them in the face of many challenges.

However, not everything at ADOC is bad news, in fact there is one diamond among the rough that Dunn and his team have recognized as an example of how corrections could be run with the appropriate funding and dedication to positive outcomes for those leaving the system and returning to their local communities.

The Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana, Alabama will have been open for ten years this coming March and have worked with almost 7,000 ADOC inmates who participated in an innovative six month rehabilitation program at the facility. 

The program is a partnership between the GEO Group as well as ADOC and the Alabama Department of Post Secondary Education.  Here the participants come from DOC facilities all over the state and enter into a six month evidence based program of drug rehabilitation, education and an opportunity for a vocational degree in five different trades and crafts via our community college system.  We have toured the ATEF and it is in fact a model of what we as legislators would like to see across the state of Alabama. 

Why?  What are the results from almost ten years at this unique medium security facility?  According to the Alabama Department of Corrections this past July, over those ten years, the ATEF has an average recidivism rate of 15%.  To put that into context, the state of Alabama’s recidivism rate is 35% (per ADOC) and the national average is 76%.  In fact, a U.S. Bureau of Justice study stated that within five years of release, 76% of inmates leaving state facilities are rearrested. 

The challenge we have in Alabama and will continue to have, is adequate funding for proven programs such as ATEF.  However, with a commitment from the Ivey Administration, the ADOC, ALDPSE and the legislature, the teaching and the treatment and the vocational degrees for participants going back to their local communities can continue and will at ATEF.  Alabama should be looking for ways to fully utilize ATEF and expand this model with proven results into other areas of our state’s corrections system.  Simply put, the results speak for themselves and if we dedicate funding to expanding a program with a 15% recidivism rate, numerous lives will be improved and the state will see the benefits for decades to come.

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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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