Many will tell you, Alabama’s prison system is broken, but is it broken beyond repair?
The Alabama Department of Corrections is plagued with overcrowding and staffing issues, with looming budget shortfalls, WSFA 12 News got a firsthand look at the issues during a tour of Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County.
Not only is the ADOC 184.2% over capacity, looming budget cuts threaten programs designed to prevent inmates from becoming repeat offenders and returning to the system. State lawmakers have promised prisons level funding, but Kilby is still coming up short.
Kilby is the initial processing center for all inmates in the state. Over 520 are permanently housed there, while over 780 inmates filter through before moving to another facility.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Colonel Jeff Dunn will be the first to admit, there are challenges in respect to overcrowding and under staffing.
The numbers speak for themselves when you step into an inmate dorm. One of the dorms our crew toured housed 128 inmates and only had one correction officer to oversee it.
Dunn says the prison system's mission is safe, secure and humane incarceration and rehabilitation but when you're short 51 security officers and at 301% capacity, meeting those objectives can be downright dangerous.
“Makes me worry about the safety of the employees that are here and the safety of the inmates down the hall,” said Kilby Correctional Facility Warden, Phyllis Billups.
“It creates a situation where our officers have to be doubly vigilant, they have to be on their guard even more than they normally would be, it puts a real premium making sure the policies and procedures we have in place are followed closely but it does incur a certain amount of risk and it creates a risk level that is challenging for us to keep up with,” said Dunn.
Dunn says at the end of the day, a lack of staff makes it difficult to rehabilitate these inmates and with a looming $15 million dollar shortfall, implementing prison reform is in jeopardy.
Every program at Kilby, and any prison for that matter, requires more security staff so with limited resources, it’s a challenge to continue providing resources because the staff that’s being stretched thin, is dedicated to security. Kilby processes in 175 inmates a week, when an inmate comes through Receiving the process takes about an hour with the ratio of one correction officer to one inmate.
“These treatment programs are key to preparing the inmates for going back into the community but under this current budget we will either have to reduce or eliminate many of those programs,” said Dunn. Studies show that the number one offense that brings inmates in is drug possession.
A couple special sessions ago, the Legislature proposed a 5% reduction the Alabama Department of Corrections General Fund Budget. The 5% cut would create a $43 million dollar deficit, closing three prisons and increasing overcrowding by 213%.
Lawmakers have apparently promised to Dunn to get ADOC up to “level funding,” but as Dunn explains, that still comes up $15 million dollars short, making Prison Reform difficult to implement.
The shortfall would defund a cell phone detection system, bring in up to 1,000 inmates currently in leased beds and eliminate therapeutic education programs impacting recidivism. “I think there’s a very good case to be made that investment on the front end will pay great dividends and decrease the cost on the back end, just the recidivism alone, I think, if you run the numbers, proves that point,” said Dunn.
Prison officials say 85% of Kilby’s inmates will eventually re-enter society so it’s not a question of if, it’s simply a matter of when and in what condition.