Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report condemning the state of Alabama for what it called unconstitutional conditions, including high rates of violence, in the state’s penitentiaries.
The Justice Department is late to this realization. Alabama lawmakers, and most Alabamians, have been aware of the growing problems in the state’s prison system for years. Despite reports of too few corrections officers and a burgeoning inmate population that’s grown to roughly double capacity, Alabama lawmakers have made no changes to reverse the trend.
With the feds breathing down their necks, state officials are now paying attention. Before his resignation in the midst of scandal, former Gov. Robert Bentley floated a plan to build new prisons, proposing a bond issue to fund the initiative to the tune of $800 million to $1 billion.
Now, Gov. Kay Ivey is on a similar track, and this week took her Study Group on Criminal Justice on a field trip to Holman Correctional Facility to see conditions firsthand.
No doubt the group heard how corrections officer staffing is less than one-third of the number authorized, while the inmate population is doubled at 1,000. What should be a 3-to-1 ratio of inmates to corrections officers is 20-to-1 at Holman prison.
And there’s the violence that has resulted in eight inmate deaths this year, the most recent last week at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton.
The field trip should be eye-opening for the governor’s study group, who must consider the entirety of the corrections system’s challenges. New facilities may address overcrowding, but that’s just one part of a system that needs reform, from sentencing to funding to compensation for corrections officers.