News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Building more prisons not answer to problem

One way to hold down the exploding state prison population is to decriminalize certain acts.

Morgan County might have spared its taxpayers the expense of a $23 million bigger jail if Sheriff Greg Bartlett overlooked petty thefts and those people who carry around a few joints for personal use.

Most of our residents, of course, are not for that. No way.

Another solution to holding down jail and prison population is to make some of these acts lesser crimes and reduce the penalties. More taxpayers would accept that alternative to building prisons, even though it would put more of these people on the streets.

Gov. Bob Riley's task force on prison overcrowding last week revived long-standing sentencing recommendations that would lower minimum possible sentencing for certain drug and property crimes. The recommendations are part of its draft report that is based on earlier work of the Alabama Sentencing Commission to give uniformity to prison punishment.

The recommendations would not be binding on judges, but serve as guidelines.

A better alternative to giving shorter sentences to create prison space for major felony convictions is to expand costly rehabilitation programs.

Some 2,930 inmates returned to prison during the last fiscal year for a parole or probation revocation, some of which were for technicalities. Task force members think that more transition centers would cut the recidivism and teach inmates how to successfully re-enter society.

Gov. Riley's reaction to the report was to embrace reform. "We've kicked the can down the road without solving the problem," he said.

He is for adding transition centers and more rehabilitation programs, too, but with the usual caveat. He needs to hear more details.

There is no one solution to all recidivism, but greater emphasis on rehabilitation, including job training, makes sense.

Rehabilitation is controversial because it's not punishment. Hopefully, the governor will dig deeply into this part of the report anyway.

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