MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - At long last, the Alabama Legislature appears to be taking the issue of the state's overcrowded prisons seriously.
For decades now, the Legislature has seemed content for the state to have some of the worst overcrowding in its prisons in the nation. Couple that with one of the lowest ratios of corrections officers to inmates among the states and you have a formula for disaster.
Alabama prisons now hold almost twice the number of inmates that they were designed to house. The Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County houses 316 percent of its design capacity.
Overcrowding, understaffing and lawsuits alleging a variety of unconstitutional prison practices combine to raise the possibility that a federal judge will order a mass release of prisoners. Last year in California, a judge set a cap on the number of prisoners the state could house, forcing the system to trim its prison population by several thousand.
The Alabama Senate recently passed a prison reform bill that was crafted by a bipartisan Prison Reform Task Force put together by Gov. Robert Bentley. The Task Force, the governor, the Senate and especially Sen. Cam Ward, who has led the effort, are to be congratulated for getting the reform measure this far.
The reform legislation would reduce penalties for many nonviolent crimes while improving and expanding parole and probation programs, as well as community corrections alternatives to traditional prison sentences.
Now it is up to the Alabama House of Representatives to pass the necessary legislation to begin to address the state's prison issues, including approving $35 million in new spending to make the reforms work.
The House should move quickly to make these much-needed reforms a reality.