Crowded jails get extension

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002

On Thursday, Circuit Judge William Shashy approved a motion filed several weeks ago by the Alabama Department of Corrections requesting more time to remedy the problem of overcrowding in state prisons and county jails.

Shashy had issued a ruling on June 14 mandating the state remove all state inmates being housed in county jails by June 26 or face more than $2 million in fines.

The order gave the state until June 26 to remove those inmates or $2 million, or $26 per inmate per day, in compensation to the county jails. The Tallapoosa County Jail last month was home to 48

state prisoners, putting the facility at 61 inmates over its capacity of 92.

Shashy told officials on Thursday that "there could a reduction of current and future monetary sanctions" if officials make a "reasonable and definite commitment" to resolve the problem which has lasted about a decade.

Since 1998, the state prison system has been under a court order to take inmates from county jails within 30 days after a judge sentences them to state prison.

As of last week, the number of state inmates that had been in a county facility for more than 30 days was near 1,300. The number had increased from the previous week, and is only expected to rise.

"I don't think there will be any relief anytime soon (about overcrowding)," said Covington County Sheriff Anthony Clark. "I don't know what the answer is. When the state tells us we have to take in certain prisoners, which they do by name now, we pretty much have to take them immediately. We can't say that we don't want this one or that one."

Clark said the overcrowding is especially problematic during the summer months.

"It is so hot right now and (the prisoners) tend to get irritated, and we have to separate them as much as we can," said Clark.

"(The jail population) is remaining steady," added Covington County Jailer Haywood Thomas, who has worked at the jail for three years. "We have to stay on our toes (to avoid problems."

Sonny Brasfield, who is the spokesperson for the Association of County Commissions, said county jails in the state are populated more with state prisoners than in 1992, when county commissioners actually sued the state prison commissioner.

While the overcrowding can create tensions, it can also create health and safety concerns.

Last year

Federal judge U.W.

Clemon compared cells at the overcrowded jail in Morgan County to the holding brigs of an 18th-century slave ship, noting that inmates were crowded into filthy cells where they were required to sleep on a concrete floor space under and between bunks, next to toilets and urinals with soiled clothes, paper and other debris littering the floor.

While this might serve as an extreme example of the overcrowding problem, the overcrowding problem is no doubt a real one.

In his edict, Shashy said that not only does the Department of Corrections need to come up with a solution to the overcrowding problem, but also that the prison commissioner and finance director meet with top legislative leaders, the attorney general and head of the Association of County Commissioners in the state to work on a realistic plan.

Governor Don Siegelman has said his office is "committed to doing everything possible" to remedy the problem and said he is confident that state leaders from the three branches of government can work together to create a permanent solution.

"While we (work on a sensible plan) we need to ensure first and foremost that our homes, streets and communities are safe," said Siegelman. "We need to ensure that violent criminals are locked up where they belong and that nonviolent offenders work for their food, shelter and clothing, as well as reimburse their victims. We have been hard at work for more than three years. While we have made progress, fundamental change is needed."

Siegelman added that work must continue to ensure a safe work environment for Alabama corrections officers "who work hard every day to maintain order and security in our state's prisons."

Attorney General Bill Pryor has said he believes that one of the main reasons for the problem with state prisons is an outdated criminal sentencing system, and has said that it should be emphasized that time between arrest and sentencing should be as short as humanly possible and that the punishment should fit the crime.