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State corrections, sentencing receive national recognition

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama's work to improve its prison system and develop programs to reduce repeat offenses received national recognition Friday.

The Pew Charitable Trusts chose Alabama as one of eight states to share in a 4-year, $12 million foundation program.

Adam Gelb, project director for Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, said the national, nonprofit organization chose Alabama because of the state's innovative changes in offender sentencing and the commitment of leaders in all three branches of state government to that goal.

Pew will provide Alabama direct assistance for policy and program development in public safety, offender accountability and corrections cost controls. Gelb said the organization will not put a dollar figure on the amount of aid to each state at this point, but said the organization's interest is helping the state implement solutions to prison overcrowding and related needs.

Gelb cited specifically a new law setting voluntary sentencing standards and the state's doubling of funding for community corrections programs.

The guidelines' development and implementation required the cooperation of Gov. Bob Riley, the corrections department, the court system and the attorney general, something that Gelb said is unusual among state programs.

"Just know that y'all really made progress in the past few years," Gelb said. Part of Pew's work will showcase what happens in Alabama as state's plans go into effect.

Riley praised the work of the commission and state officials who helped develop the state's new guidelines and lawmakers who enacted legislation increasing funding and pledged his support for efforts to improve the system.

Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen, who took over the prison system in March, said plans for improvements are going better than he expected when Riley asked him to take the job.

"The Alabama Department of Corrections cannot overcome years of neglect in a few months, but we are encouraged by the progress so far," Allen said.

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