Alabama Prison Overhaul Requires More Spending, Inmate Education: Panel

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A panel named by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to study the state’s violent, overcrowded prison system called Thursday for boosting corrections department funding and expanding educational programs for inmates, as part of a series of recommendations aimed at focusing discussion ahead of the legislative session that begins next week, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The recommendations came on the same week that the Alabama Department of Corrections announced the partial closure of Holman Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, because of an inability to safely provide water, electricity, and sewage service due to the hazards in a tunnel that houses the utilities.

Ten months after the U.S. Department of Justice said overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons helped create conditions so violent that they violate the Constitution, the problem is getting worse, reports Al.com.

Addressing the prison crisis is expected to be a priority for lawmakers when they convene Tuesday. Alabama faces significant pressure to overhaul its correctional system, which in the last fiscal year had the most inmate homicides of any year in two decades.

A federal judge has called the prison system’s handling of inmates’ medical and mental-health needs “horrendously inadequate” and ordered the hiring of more than 2,000 additional staff.

The state is in continued discussions with the Justice Department over how to address the failings. Gov. Ivey formed the criminal-justice panel, choosing a bipartisan group of lawmakers and others and chaired by retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons Jr.

“The challenges we have inherited are multifaceted and complex,” Lyons wrote. “They are longstanding. And they will require spending significant sums of taxpayer money.”

The corrections department’s budget request for the next fiscal year asked for $563 million, an eight percent increase over the current year. The panel proposed early-release incentives for inmates who complete certain courses.

The aim is to prepare prisoners to return to the workforce upon release and reduce the likelihood they will commit crimes again. Panel members had a harder time reaching consensus on the issue of sentencing reform.

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