Alabama Legislature Considers Plan to Reduce Overcrowding

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — There are currently two bills making their way through the Alabama Legislature that, if passed, would help reduce overcrowding in Alabama prisons. The state’s prisons system currently house about 25,000 inmates in facilities built to house 13,000, reported The Anniston Star.

The prisons reform bill, which has already passed the Senate, won approval from the House of Representatives on April 30, moving it closer to passage by the full House. The bill would create a new class of felonies with lessened punishments for several property and drug crimes. The $23 million-a-year (over five years) plan would allow the state to hire an additional 100 parole officers to establish a new system that would punish parole violators with short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison.

The bill would also allow inmates to get driver’s licenses that would allow them to drive to work and other appointments as soon as they leave prison. The fact that inmates currently don’t have the ability to drive often hinders them from getting jobs. The Anniston Star reported that the inmate driver’s licenses could serve as a pilot program for a broader effort to allow “hardship licenses” for misdemeanor and traffic offenders who would lose their jobs without a license. The House version of the bill also added provisions for churches and other nonprofits to be part of a system of community-based treatment that would keep some offenders out of prison.

A separate bill is asking the state to spend $60 million from bonds on construction to add space for about 1,500 to 2,000 inmates over five years, reported In 2010, the Legislature approved up to $60 million in bonds to buy a private prison in Perry County, but the state did not issue the bonds or buy the prison.

The Alabama Prison Reform Task Force — a panel of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, victim advocates, legislators and others who drew on research from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which has helped other states with criminal justice reforms — helped create the two bills that would help reduce overcrowding in Alabama prisons.