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Homeland funds won't buy prison guns

By M.J. Ellington
DAILY Staff Writer (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Sen. Roger Bedford's suggestion last week that the Department of Corrections fill its holsters with Homeland Security money is a no-no.

Monday, the Homeland Security Department director said the suggestion is not a proper use of those funds.

The director, Jim Walker, said the federal guidelines on using Homeland Security money are specific. Guidelines do not include routine weaponry purchases for prison security personnel, Walker said, after a Legislative Homeland Security Committee meeting Monday.

Walker said guidelines require that 80 percent of Homeland Security dollars go to local programs, with only 20 percent reserved for state program use.

"Gov. Riley has already asked to reserve state funds for the Department of Public Safety," Walker said.

The remainder goes to city, county and regional programs where area agencies pool efforts to prepare for Homeland Security emergencies.

He said such area agencies include emergency preparedness agencies, local law enforcement and rescue teams.

Walker told Homeland Security Committee members Monday that he does not have a lot of flexibility on how to spend most of the department's money.

A goal for 2005 is a coordinated secure communications system to help local and state agencies access critical information more easily.

Bedford, D-Russellville, suggested using Homeland Security money last week to Department of Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell.

Campbell appealed to the Legislature for funds to replace aging and inappropriate weapons and security equipment for guards in the state's financially strapped prison system.

Facing a prison population that numbers almost 60 percent above capacity, the corrections chief appealed for help with a number of problems related to overcrowding.

One of the suggestions included upgraded weapons.

"Keep in mind that we are the middle man," said Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.

"We have no control over who comes to us, how they get here, when they leave. We just have to handle them while they are here and try to prepare them for when they leave."

Corbett said Corrections is the only state department expected to raise a portion of its budget.

Corrections raises $40 million to $50 million per year through work-release programs, canteens, pay telephone income and related programs.

Work-release income is lower because of early-release efforts, but the population is still growing, Corbett said.

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