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Decatur’s Allen staying on as state prison chief

By M.J. Ellington· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A Decatur native who took over the state’s troubled prison system in February said Friday he plans to stay on the job another four years.

“Things have turned around a lot, but we are not there yet,” Richard F. Allen said.

Gov. Bob Riley appointed Allen commissioner of Alabama’s Department of Corrections in February following the resignation of former director Donal Campbell.

“Gov. Riley talked about long-term commitment at that time, and I committed for four more years at the beginning,” Allen said. “Things are moving forward, but I wish they could move faster.”

Allen inherited a system crowded with twice the number of inmates the state’s prisons were designed to accommodate. Crowding, employee shortages and funding problems were big challenges 10 months ago and Allen said they still are, but there are signs that things are turning around.

“The most important thing for the state is to get the crowding under control,” Allen said, after a Friday press conference. But Allen said hiring more corrections officers is an equally high priority from an employee safety standpoint.

Allen said he believes employee morale is better in the department now than 10 months ago, something that he believes spreads to the prison population. “Even the inmates seem more optimistic, but there is a lot of work left to do,” Allen said.

He made his comments after a Friday news conference announcing the state’s selection by The Pew Charitable Trusts to take part in a program to help the state find effective solutions to corrections and sentencing needs.

A former chief deputy attorney general in Alabama, Allen was a law clerk for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Howell Heflin. He later was Heflin’s aide in the U.S. Senate. Allen is married to the former Peggy Harrison who also grew up in Decatur.

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