Category: Alabama Prisons
Officials from the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles presented their budget proposals to lawmakers Thursday ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn requested a $42 million increase, bringing the agency’s total General Fund budget to $563 million. Dunn said much of the additional money will be used to recruit 700 more security staff, increase funding for inmate healthcare and hire about 100 mental healthcare professionals. Read more.
UPDATED MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey’s prison study group held its last public session Tuesday, with lawmakers on the body calling for more resources to keep potential inmates out of the state’s overcrowded, understaffed and violence-plagued prison system, as well as other steps to reduce the existing population and better equip those who leave the system to never return.
“I’ve got to come up with a report that says, ‘This is where we have unanimity, this is where we have differences of opinion,” said former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons. At Ivey’s request, Lyons has chaired the Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy. He was scheduled to meet with Ivey on Tuesday afternoon. Lyons said the group’s report should be complete and made public in a week or 10 days.
The study group, whose members also included state Finance Director Kelly Butler, Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn and a stand-in for Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall, began its work last summer. Charged with helping the state better address the prison system’s problems, it has reviewed major litigation facing the system, visited some of the state’s prisons and discussed the shortage of correctional officers. Read more.
A Florida-based group that is among four teams of developers that will submit proposals for a massive project to build and maintain three new Alabama prisons gave $67,500 to Gov. Kay Ivey, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and 26 legislators during the 2018 election cycle.
Companies or individuals associated with all four of the development teams contributed to candidates during the 2018 elections, but the Geo Group Inc., based in Boca Raton, Florida, and its political action committee were by far the biggest donors.
After the Geo Group’s $67,500, the second-largest total of contributions to statewide and legislative officeholders from companies or individuals associated with the prison-development teams was $28,250. That money was given by John White-Spunner of Mobile, president of White-Spunner Construction Inc., a partner in the development team led by Corvias LLC of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections announced last month that the teams of builders, architects, designers and other specialists had qualified to make proposals for upgrading the state’s aging, crowded prison system. Read more.
On the third floor of the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Dothan Pastor Kenneth Glasgow read aloud the names of 21 men who have died in Alabama prisons this year. Sandy Ray then showed a photo of her son Steven Davis, who was beaten to death two months ago by correctional officers at Donaldson Correctional facility.
“My son was beat,” Ray said. “We don’t do our dogs this way. Please, please, we have to have change.”
Glasgow and Ray were among several prison reform advocates who gathered Wednesday ahead of a meeting of Gov. Kay Ivey’s study group on criminal justice policy. Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy convened Wednesday in Montgomery to discuss operations of the Alabama Department of Corrections. Earlier in the day, the group toured Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County, one of the state’s 15 major correctional facilities.
“It’s crowded. It’s hot,” group chairman Justice Champ Lyons said of the prisons tour. “They have fans, bunkbeds, lights that stay on 24/7. You learn to sleep in the daylight.”
ADOC is largely understaffed and overcrowded, with record high levels of violence and suicide. In addition to an ongoing lawsuit about the mental health care and medical care of inmates, the department also faces the threat of federal intervention, following the April publication of a scathing Department of Justice report that detailed gruesome conditions in state prisons.
Ivey appointed the criminal justice reform group in July to study issues that plague the system. The group will develop reform proposals ahead of the 2020 legislative session. Read more.
A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says Alabama’s community corrections program unfairly burdens low-income people and threatens public safety. Community corrections, operating in 51 of Alabama’s 67 counties, is overseen by the state Department of Corrections but run locally. It’s designed to be an alternative to prison. The report’s main criticism is that community corrections relies on fees as a primary revenue source. These include fees for drug testing, supervision or electronic monitoring. Read more.
Michael Bryant has served time in prison twice. The 40-year-old didn’t want to be locked up a third time. So months after he was released, Bryant finished the Dannon Project’s adult re-entry program. It helps non-violent offenders successfully return to the community.
Bryant is proud of himself, and every now and then he goes by to let people in the program know he’s doing okay.
“I feel like a small celebrity when I come through,” he says. “They’ll be like ‘man you’re doing good.’ I’ve been out eight months. I got a car, I’m driving, I’m working. I got my own spot and they helped me do that.”
The Dannon Project helps formerly incarcerated people like Bryant avoid future involvement with the justice system. Recently the nonprofit received a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand its adult re-entry program. It’ll also launch a re-entry program for young adults in October. Read more.
As the Alabama Legislature winds down its regular session, state lawmakers are on track to boost the budget for the state’s prisons, they have approved a pay raise for correctional officers, and they expect to meet again in the fall to address other issues in a system that is still overcrowded, under-resourced and under the watchful eye of a federal judge and the U.S. Justice Department.
“There are lot of different issues, from mental health to overcrowding, the pay, to facilities,” said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
Friday is likely to be the last day of the regular session. On Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that will give correctional officers “a one-time two-step salary increase,” and expand bonus opportunities for Department of Corrections employees. The measure takes effect Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 2020.
Over the past few years, the Department of Corrections has seen its budgets increase by small amounts. For fiscal 2020, it expects to have a budget of $601 million. Most of that money would come from the state General Fund, which pays for most of state government’s non-educational functions.
The Legislature has approved and sent to the governor a General Fund budget that is slated to include money to cover the pay increase signed into law by Ivey, give money to hire and train 500 new corrections officers during fiscal 2020 and improve the prison system’s mental health services. Read more.
BirminghamWatch, in collaboration with B-Metro Magazine, documented the conditions under which correctional officers work for a story last year:
Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, and plagued by violence. A federal judge ruled mental health care for inmates is “horrendously inadequate.” There have been 15 suicides in as many months – including one earlier this month. Two inmates were stabbed and killed recently as well. While overcrowding has eased slightly, state lawmakers know there’s more work to do. WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with state Sen. Cam Ward, a leading voice on prison issues, to get a sense of where lawmakers stand during this legislative session.
Kilby Correctional Facility, just outside of Montgomery, looks like a group of warehouse-style buildings surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence. Inside, inmates have just finished lunch. The hallways are loud and sounds echo off the walls. Warden Leon Bolling leads the way to the mental health crisis area. He says this area is for prisoners at risk of suicide.
“Everything is supposed to try to be free from person being able to do something to harm themselves,” Bolling says.
Inmates in these mental health crisis units often stay in their cells alone all day. They are constantly monitored by staff, according to prison officials. But some say that’s not enough.
Suicide is a problem in Alabama’s prisons. In the past 15 months, 14 inmates have died by suicide. Advocacy groups say that amounts to one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. In 2017, a federal judge said mental health care in state prisons was “horrendously inadequate.” The Department of Corrections is under court order to hire more staff and improve treatment. But this is a challenge, according to Jeff Dunn, commissioner of the DOC. Read more.