Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has named two Montgomery lawyers with no prison experience to lead the Department of Corrections, a sign that change is afoot for the embattled prison system, the Birmingham News reports. Richard F. Allen, chief deputy attorney general under three Alabama attorneys general, took over immediately as corrections commissioner, spending the afternoon with departing prisons chief Donal Campbell. Vernon Barnett, Riley’s deputy legal adviser and his point person on prison and sentencing reform, will hold a new position of chief deputy commissioner of corrections.
Campbell quit Friday after butting heads with the Riley administration. Campbell repeatedly called for new prisons, while Riley has pushed for prison alternatives. Allen, 64, takes over a system plagued by lawsuits, crowding, medical mismanagement and escalating costs. The state locks up more than 27,000 people in space built for 13,000. Its budget has grown by 60 percent in five years with no new prisons built. Why would a successful lawyer want to take on such a bureaucratic behemoth? “What do the mountain climbers say when you ask `why did you climb that mountain?'” Allen asked. “They say, `Because it’s there.'” Riley has given him five priorities and 30 days to present a plan to fix the department. The priorities are public safety, safety of officers and staff, providing humane and constitutional conditions in prisons, providing education and job training, and ensuring that prisoners’ spiritual needs are met.