State unveils prison plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002

In an effort to remedy the problem of prison overcrowding, Gov. Don Siegelman's administration announced on Thursday a plan to construct a 400-inmate facility, perhaps in Bullock or Marion counties.

Prison officials in the state outlined a plan which has been presented to Circuit Judge William Shashy, who had previously set Thursday as a deadline for some plan to alleviate the backlog of some 1,350

state inmates in overcrowded county jails.

County officials sued the state in 1992 to get rid of state prisoners in county jails, and in 1998, the state agreed in court to take prisoners from county jails with 30 days after they are sentenced to state prison. The state, however, has been unable to remain firm to that commitment because of the lack of space in state prisons. Currently 1,350

state prisoners remain in county facilities past the 30-day deadline.

Covington County Sheriff Anthony Clark said he is pleased to hear about the state's plan.

"I think (the plan) is a good one," said Clark. "We have got to do something, whether it be building new facilities or rerouting the court system. I am talking about the non-violent folks. I believe new facilities should be built and I would not mind seeing a new facility built in Covington County."

Highlights of the state's plan to at least lessen this problem include:

Building the 400-man facility, most likely at the Bullock County Correctional Facility in Union Springs or in Marion County.

Expanding community corrections programs, which have felons working in the community under close supervision rather than serving time in prison. This would allow the transfer of 100 inmates out of state prisons immediately and about 25 each month thereafter.

Adding 10 probation and parole officers so the state parole board can increase paroles.

Adding 200 beds, split between the Bullock County Correctional Facility and at Donaldson Correctional Facility in western Jefferson County, for inmates with mental health problems.

Reopen the state's old East Thomas road camp in Jefferson County to house 100 to 125 inmates who will work on state road projects.

Add other road camps at sites to be selected for nonviolent prisoners who will clean highways.

Divert nonviolent offenders into expanded drug treatment programs, where they will work and receive treatment.

The proposed 400-bed facility is slated to take nine months to construct, and the work is set to begin immediately. That facility is estimated to cost about $4 million , which will be taken from the state prison system's fiscal 2003 operating budget, which begins Oct. 1.