Strange talks prison system

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 2, 2014

Attorney General Luther Strange discussed some hot-button issues, including Alabama’s “broken” prison system, lethal injection, marriage licenses and EPA regulations when he visited the Lions Club yesterday.

“We are at 200 percent capacity, so it’s a big issue,” Strange said. “The federal government has now told us they are investigating our prison system.”

There are currently more than 30,000 inmates, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The prison system is the second biggest piece of Alabama’s General Fund budget, which is in dire straits, Strange said.

“If you go to any of the prisons here, there will be 25 guards and 1,500 inmates,” Strange said. “So you figure out the math on that, it isn’t good.

“There is a task force right now that is addressing what we are going to do about that problem,” he said.

Strange said there is no easy way to fix this, but his first goal is to keep residents safe.

He said he would like to work on rehabilitating inmates back into society.

“There are some violent, dangerous people that need to be incarcerated and kept away,” he said, adding that DA’s, local judges should have some leeway to put people back on the right track.

Lethal injection was also discussed, and Strange said the use of a certain drugs is “hot” nationally.

“The issue right now is whether or not the cocktail of drugs used is constitutional,” Strange said.

Executions in the state ceased after manufacturers refused to sell the drugs needed for lethal injection.

“There are groups that are very much opposed to the death penalty,” Strange said. “They boycott or discourage drug manufacturers from providing them.”

Recently, Alabama adopted a new three-drug combination to use in lethal injections and state lawyers said the combination is “virtually identical” to that used in Florida.

“We’ve proposed drugs that have met the courts’ standards,” he said. “We’ve asked the Supreme Court to allow us to proceed with about nine or 10 people who have exhausted all of their appeals.”

Probate Judge Ben Bowden asked about obligations probate judges have concerning marriage licenses.

“Many of us probate judges are very concerned that we’ll be called upon to decide what we believe is right and what a marriage ought to be, and what some other court tells us it ought to be,” Bowden said.

Strange responded that his role is to make sure that the law is enforced and if the people don’t like the law, they can change it through elected officials.

He said it’s a full-time job defending the laws legislators pass and same sex marriage is a “hot button” issue of the day.

“It is so much better if the people democratically decide on these issues than all power going to Washington,” Strange said.

However, most courts have found same-sex marriage unconstitutional, he said.

Mayor Earl Johnson asked if Strange was engaged in the topic of carbon regulation within the state, to which Strange replied that he’s working with a network of other states around the country affected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules on carbon regulations.

Johnson said the regulation would raise utility rates in Alabama about 60 percent and that “we in the southeast are hit harder because we have more coal-fired plants then other parts of the country.”

“We’ve filed written comments and pointed out what they’re doing we think is beyond their authority,” Strange said. “They can regulate carbon but they have to do it under a certain provision, they can’t make this broad approach they’re trying to use.

“We’ve made our legal arguments,” he said. “This is not right legally, it’s terrible economically and ironically it won’t do anything to improve the atmosphere, it won’t help the environment.”