Final prison study group meeting held; report to be released soon

Meeting addresses problems in state prisons

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy held its final meeting before the regular session begins February. The group will release a report filled with its policy recommendations to address the state’s prison crisis.

Alabama lawmakers plan to tackle several corners of the complex criminal justice system.

“It is very hard to fix things when you’re not funded at the level. DOC didn’t get bad all at one time. It got bad over a very long period of time,” said Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee agreed that the state needs to invest more money in rehabilitation programs.

This includes funding for pretrial intervention programs and other programs to help inmates transition into society.

“I think if we are really serious about it, you will invest the money, and political capital to do it," said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

They are considering programs that provide care including mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“Us being able to restore the defendant is one of the best things we can give the victim," said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

Lawmakers were frustrated that inmates do not receive much help after leaving prison. They suggested the state provide more job training behind bars and provide newly-released inmates with identification cards.

“If we can get someone help before they get into the system as we say and correct their behavior for the rest of their life, then that’s a win," said Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville.

One of the big elephants in the room included how the state would pay for it.

“This is something that should be paid for by the state. We ought to be offering these across the board," said Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody.

Ward said the general fund budget has seen growth and would be able to afford it. He said it is an investment that would pay off in the long run.

“You’ve got the growth in the general fund to do it but you’ve got to have the political will to do it," he said.

Chambliss said it costs $23,000 per inmate each year. Other reforms to reduce the prison population will be on the table this year.

“If you want to lock up everybody for the rest of their lives, get ready to pay for it because the money is just not there," Ward said.

The specific sentencing reform proposals are still unknown but are expected to be revealed when the legislative session begins.

Ward said the group will release its suggestions within the coming weeks.

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