Lawmakers react to ADOC strategic plan

Lawmakers debate ADOC prison reform plan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Corrections released its 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to combat issues identified in the prison system last week.

From overcrowding and understaffing to higher than average suicides and homicides within facilities, Alabama’s prison problems are well documented. ADOC said the plan will serve as an “actionable road map” to reverse negative trends and transform corrections in Alabama.

“We are excited, we think it does give us a pathway for the future,” said Jeff Dunn, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn says they have been working on this strategic plan for about 18 months. The plan outlines the efforts that will be made over the next three years in four strategic focus areas - staffing, infrastructure, programming and culture. The entire strategic plan can be viewed here.

“They all work together to create the type of correctional system that we want. One that meets our mission of safety and security and plus provides the evidence based rehabilitation we want to do," said Dunn. “We are trying to change the dynamics so people say, ‘I like working for corrections, I want to be on that team, it is important.’”

ADOC said it began the planning process in early 2018 and developed the plan based off feedback from staff, leadership, focus groups, interviews, and surveys. The Department of Justice opened an investigation into Alabama’s prisons in 2016, and in April DOJ released a letter describing the problems as “severe” and “systemic” and stating the attorney general might initiate a lawsuit if Alabama officials did not “satisfactorily address the issues.”

“95 percent of the inmates that are with us now are eventually going to go back into society," Dunn said. "We need a environment in which we can effectively provide services to help them develop the skills they need to transition safely back into society. Our current infrastructure doesn’t allow for that. We are making strides in all four areas and we’re working hard in all four areas to move us down the road.”

The state was required to outline its plan to fix all the problems, and DOJ was required to wait 49 days before taking any legal action.

“Just looking through it there are a lot of pictures and I don’t know what is so strategic about the plan," said Sen. Bobby Singleton.

Democratic Senator Bobby Singleton isn’t satisfied and feels there is a lack of urgency in the plan. He says there also should be more communication between the DOC and the legislature.

“I think our corrections department has to get on the same page as we are in terms of the legislature as being as serious with this DOJ and the courts as we are. I don’t get that out of the commissioner and his staff thus far. There is not real communication between us,” said Singleton.

The Alabama House Democratic Caucus responded to the strategic plan saying, “Alabama’s plan to address the humanitarian crisis in our prisons must include more than simply building new facilities and hiring staff. House Democrats support a holistic, comprehensive criminal justice reform plan that includes serious sentencing reform, improved staff and leadership training, and increased accountability and oversight to address the culture of violence in our institutions."

“They lay out what some of what the problems are real good. I think there is still a little vagueness left on what the solutions are, but a lot of that is at the legislative so that is something we have to get resolved," said Sen. Cam Ward. “We have a bipartisan group working together right now of House and Senate members, both political parties, coming up with a comprehensive package to deal with this once and for all.”

A bill to give correctional officers pay raises and bonuses is moving through the legislature right now. Some lawmakers hope this will lower the turnover rate within the department and attract qualified employees.

On top of this, both Republicans and Democrats urged Ivey last week to call a special session to solve the understaffing and overcrowding problems. There could be a special session later this year.

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