LOCKDOWN: Prisons work to solve overcrowding

Posted by: Cody Holyoke - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) -- State prisons are bursting at the seams.

"The overcrowding situation's gotten progressively worse over the years," explained John Cummins II, warden of Kilby Correctional Facility in Mount Meigs.

Correctional officers are vastly outnumbered by inmates.  Sometimes hundreds to one.

"The safety in that is very insecure," said Officer Tommy Hetherington, who works at Kilby.

State funding is beyond low--less than half the national average, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

With a tight General Fund passed through the Legislature, D.O.C. Commissioner Richard Allen says the department will soon be down tens of millions of dollars.

"We've just cut every place we thought we could think to cut, and we've just about run out of places to cut," Allen explained.

Don't forget the tougher sentencing laws sending people to prison.  Possession of some drugs, like amphetamines--or sometimes marijuana--can land you at least a year behind bars.

"Those opportunities give judges the options to send people to prison longer, and they do," Allen said.

So what are prisons doing to lighten the load?

Some inmates can go on work release or a Supervised Reentry Program, but the system doesn't always work.

Just ask escapee Rodney Hurst.

"I think I learned my lesson this time.  If I would have reported 6 more months on what I'd been here on, I'd been out formally," said Hurst, who currently resides in the maximum security section of Kilby C.F.

Another way to ease the crowding: hiring new officers.

It's something the DOC is trying to do as quickly as it can.

April, the department held graduation ceremony for the largest class of correctional officers ever.

123 men and women took the oath in Selma, trying to shift the officer to inmate ratio in their favor.

"It makes me feel kind of nervous, but I've done it for 3 months now, and I can handle it," explained Officer Issac Moody.

"You have to not get complacent.  You have to know your job, inside and out, and take it seriously," said Officer Timothy Tenberge.

Of the 123 officers, none will go to Kilby.

Cadets, however, are getting ready for the next class.

Meanwhile, officers hold the fort while they wait for backup.

"We tell them to be firm but fair.  You do the right thing, and most of the time, it works out okay," Warden Cummins explained.

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