DOC Commissioner addresses prison overcrowding, budget concerns

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) -- Increasing financial pressure and a growing population could push prisons to the breaking point.

One group, the Alabama Correctional Organization, is speaking out, worried for workers inside the gates.

Prisons are packed for the moment.  Statistics provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections show 25,226 inmates houses in various correctional facilities that are designed to only hold 13,403 prisoners.

AOC says lawmakers are adding to the problem.

"We've created 86 new felonies since 2001 alone. Those are contributing to more people coming into the system than are going out," explained Jarrod Massey, who represents the group.

It's getting tight. Inmate-to-staff ratios are holding around 10 to 1, about twice the national average.

Those statistics, however, only count if every officer's on duty.

"You wind up in a situation where you may have one or two corrections officers looking after 250 to 300 inmates," admitted Richard Allen, Commissioner of Alabama's Department of Corrections.

To put those numbers into perspective, imagine 4 to 6 bus loads of inmates--and only one person charged with keeping them all in line.

That may not even be the worst-case scenario.  If the economy continues to slump, officers may have to let some of the prisoners go.

"There's litigation now between the Governor and the legislature.  If the legislature wins that litigation and we have to take a 17% budget cut, there'd be no way to absorb a cut like that--except for closing facilities and releasing inmates," Allen said.

Despite the dire straits for the D.O.C., even residents living next to prisons say they're not worried about release or escape.

"We have weapons, and there's no concern about using weapons if something should happen. We have a heightened sense of awareness.  Pure and simple.  We deal with whatever comes up," explained Bruce Durham, who resides adjacent to Kilby Prison in Montgomery County.

Right now, the Department of Corrections is still hiring officers to work in prison system.

Allen says the move adds manpower to every day operations and helps cut costs for overtime for existing workers.

Stay tuned to WSFA 12 News as we follow this developing story.