News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Alternative sentencing, work future of prisons

Alabama has 28,000 inmates in its prison system and is adding more each month.

With each flip of a calendar page, 700 inmates are eligible to come into the system but only 581 leave.

Past attempts at a remedy were to build more prisons or wait for a fed-up federal judge to order a bunch of inmates released.

The state as yet is unable to break the cycle.

Richard Allen, a Decatur native who now is commissioner of the Corrections Department, brought the magnitude of the problem home to the Tennessee Valley on Monday in a Rotary Club address and in meetings with area newspapers.

His presentation is sobering. Healthcare alone costs the state $80 million for inmates. Limestone Correctional Facility is so crowded that inmates eat in shifts with breakfast beginning at 4:30 a.m. and supper at 3:30 p.m.

Without money from the Legislature to build more facilities, Mr. Allen sees the future of the prison system as one in which more inmates work to help defray costs.

He's touting community corrections programs, like the one Morgan County has in the planning stage, and centers where parolees who commit technical violations, like failing to report in on time, can be punished without re-entering the prison system.

His message is uncomplicated: Lock up the violent criminals and put the remainder of them to work either in prison-contracted industries or in work release, and have them pay part of the bill.

Reducing the number of inmates means the state saves money that perhaps it could spend on doing a better job of rehabilitating prisoners and cutting the 30 percent recidivism.

To do all of this, the commissioner must convince the public and public officials that inmates put into community programs are properly supervised and are not dangerous.

One way he does that already is to point to the state's work release facility on Alabama 20 West and its successful relations with Decatur and Morgan County.

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