Alabama prisons face budget challenges

More tan 26,000 people are locked up in Alabama prisons. Alabama's Prison Commissioner says some of them could get out sooner than expected if this year's budget shortfall isn't overcome.

The prison system outlined its financial problems during budget hearings. Commissioner Richard Allen told lawmakers a $15 million budget shortage this year could lead to employee cuts, prison closings, and even inmate releases. Chief Deputy Commissioner Vernon Barnett says there are too many political and legal hurdles to clear before an early release of inmates. He told WSFA 12 News, "There is no legal mechanism in Alabama to do that."

Barnett says laying off staff is difficult and dangerous. With overcrowding, closing prisons isn't an option either he says.  Barnett believes they can fill the hole in the budget this year; it's the 2011 budget that they're deeply concerned about.

Barnett says the Department of Corrections budget has already been cut to the bone.  With more cuts expected, he doesn't know how they will make ends meet.

There is the option of leasing beds from private prisons in Alabama and others across the country. The prison system has already sold land and timber to cover some expenses.