LOCKDOWN: Alabama's prisons overcrowded

Posted by: Cody Holyoke - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) -- If you're ever convicted of a major crime in Alabama, chances are you'll end up in the state's prison system.

Kilby Correctional Facility is one of 19 facilities of its kind in Alabama.  It's a fortress packed with a constant flow of prisoners.

Officers process thousands of fresh faces each year as they enter the population.

Correctional officers, however, have a crisis on their hands.

Statewide, prisons house 25,420 criminals, according to the latest monthly report.

The problem? They're only designed for 13,403.

Kilby Correctional Facility has 1,459 beds in a facility built to hold 440.

"Think about if you tripled your household--the problems that you would have, and you don't have dysfunctional criminals," explained John Cummins II, Kilby's warden.

Inmates like Rodney Hurst knows first hand how dysfunctional criminals can get.

In the system 13 years, he's seen it all.

"[I've been in the yard and seen] 4 or 5 hundred people--everybody playing basketball and frisbee and stuff--and all of a sudden everybody's bloody with blood all over them because everybody got stabbed up," Hurst explained.

Hurst is one of a hundred inmates stuck in maximum--or close--security.  The people there are there for a reason.

"An incident of violence, an assault on an inmate, an assault on an officer, an assault with a weapon. Any number of things can lead you to be in segregation," Cummins said.

Conditions aren't as controlled beyond the cell block.

The dormitories for Kilby's "general population" consist of some coverted buildings, stuffed with criminals.

"It certainly needs to be a much greater ratio than it is now," Cummins said.

Statewide, the officer to inmate ratio is about 10 to 1--if you count every correctional officer in the system.

Start talking shifts--and who's on duty-- and the numbers shift dramatically.

The ratio can swing to 300 to 1 at times.  That alone opens the door to a series of problems.

Prisons keep an armory stocked at all times and have special equipment ready to handle outbursts, but officers like Tommy Hetherington worry things may get out of hand.

"They think they can come right in, and jump in and start doing things they shouldn't do. You have a big job in trying to correct them," Hetherington said.

So, what's keeping the prison system from expanding?  Simply put, money.

DOC Commissioner Richard Allen works to secure funding in any way possible.

"We spend about 2.8% of our state money on prisons. The national average is about 6.8%, so if the state doubled the amount they spend on corrections in Alabama, we still would not meet the national average," Allen explained.

Allen says state cuts stifle the D.O.C.

Not to mention the new streamlined General Fund passed by the Alabama Legislature.

"Right now, we're projecting a $20 million shortfall, based on what the Senate did by actually cutting the budget the House submitted," Allen said.

Those funds are mission critical.

"The money's to go just for operating expenses.  Keeping the lights turned on, feeding the inmates, providing health care, all the things that we have to do.  That's where the money goes," Allen explained.

While funding drops, wardens deal with a financial sentence they can't escape.

"Our budget is a disaster. We don't have a lot of money, so we make do with what we have," Cummins said.

The D.O.C. hopes to get part of the bailout money given to the state to help with operating costs.

It's tough, however, when more and more prisoners enter the gates.

Commissioner Allen says out of 538 felonies on the books in Alabama, 78 were added in the last 10 years.  That means more prisoners, which means more crowding.

Tune in for Part 2 of LOCKDOWN, Tuesday, May 19th, on WSFA 12 News at 6:00.

©2009 WSFA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.