With Alabama prisons stuffed beyond capacity and no signs of any slowdown in the volume of drug and theft cases that fill court dockets, state judges are being asked to rethink the sentences they issue, reports the Huntsville Times. The message came last week as all judges with power to sentence prisoners were invited by Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb to a three-day meeting in Montgomery. Cobb wants to find ways to reduce overcrowding and still enforce Alabama’s laws in the face of significant state budget problems.
Alabama’s prisons are operating at 195 percent of capacity, making it the most crowded state prison system in the U.S. Alabama has the nation’s sixth highest incarceration rate; state prison costs quadrupled in 20 years to $577 million a year in 2008, and half of all new inmates in the system in 2009 were imprisoned for drug offenses, according to the chief justice. Madison County Presiding Circuit Judge Karen Hall said tours she took of two Tutwiler prisons are causing her to rethink how she sentences young male and female offenders. Hall said the state legislature needs to address the lack of prison space and the lack of programs offering rehabilitation or skills training.
“I saw 195 men in a dorm that was 96 degrees,” she said. “They can go to church; they can play basketball or lift weights in their yard, and that’s it. They need to be doing something. Hall favors the addition of work camps and boot camps and halfway houses to bolster the state’s alternative sentencing system.