Lawmaker: Alabama Must Make Fundamental Changes to Prison System

By Kim Chandler

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, had likened Alabama’s overcrowded prison system to a box of dynamite 

The Department of Justice “probably lit the fuse” with findings of unconstitutional conditions at Tutwiler Prison, he said.

“We’re going to have to make some fundamental system-wide changes. We can’t continue going on this road,” said Ward, who is chairman of the Joint Legislative Prison Committee. 

Legislative leaders today said something must be done to improve Alabama's prison system. But they also said there were no easy immediate answers.

Allen Farley, vice-chairman of the oversight committee, called for an independent investigation of the prison system.

“Nobody should ever be treated the way that these ladies have allegedly been treated,” Farley said. 

Farley called the officers who allegedly committed  the abuses "scum."

“You cannot buy integrity. You’ve got to go back and sit down and look at who we’ve got working for us, how long they’ve worked for us, what their background is, what allegations they’ve got against them,” Farley said.

Ward said he hopes to invite the Council of State Governments to conduct a review of the state prison system.

“We all know there is an issue with the prisons. There is overcrowding. Something has to be done,” Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said.

Hubbard, Ward and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh met with the representatives of the Council of State Governments on Wednesday.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he was concerned about corrections funding before the DOJ report. Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed General Fund budget gives the prisons essentially level funding.

“One of my areas of interest was to try to increase the appropriations for corrections,” Orr said. He said the DOJ report made that more pressing. 

 Ward said even if Alabama built prisons, it would not address the shortage of corrections officers.

"You don't have enough officers overall. You really don't have enough female officers," Ward said. 

The state is also discussing moving some of the nonviolent Tutwiler inmates to a now-closed state institution that once housed mentally disabled patients.  A spokesman for the department said that was a long-term goal.

Ward said the troubles in the prison system are not new. 

“Hopefully, this DOJ report will really wake everybody up.” Ward said. 

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the findings in the DOJ report are serious.

"We want to get to the bottom of that," Marsh said. "We want to make sure that our prisons are run correctly. We want to make sure the funding for our prisons is adequate. And we're addressing those things and are trying to continue to address those things."

"We're taking it very seriously," he said. "We want those things looked into, but also work to solve the long-term problems of our prisons."

Mike Cason and Kelsey Stein contributed to this report. 

 

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