State prisons contribute

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2001

to local jail problems


Staff Writer

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Jan. 29, 2001 10 PM

State prisoners have been causing a headache for county jails.

Over 1,500 state inmates are being housed in county jails over 30 days because there are no prison beds. That is a violation of a state court order.

In 1998, the state agreed to take prisoners from county jails within 30 days of receiving their paperwork from county officials in order to settle a suit filed by five sheriffs in 1992. Those lawsuits were filed after years of disputes between the counties and state prison officials.

Despite the lack of prison beds, the Alabama Department of Corrections is experiencing a net growth of 91 inmates per month, which means they are being housed in county jails across the state and overcrowding those smaller facilities.

It is estimated 1,540 beds will be needed to relieve overcrowding in county jails.

And, with the prison population in June 2000 reaching a record high of 25,612, authorities are not surprised of the trickle down effect of the problem, especially when one considers one out of every 72 young adults ­ between 20 and 34 ­ in Alabama is behind bars.

According to information compiled by The Sentencing Institute, a private, non-profit organization affiliated with Auburn University Montgomery, continued growth is expected.

At the current rate of growth, the Department of Corrections population will increase to 31,028 over the next five years, which is an increase of 5,460 inmates.

The recent opening of Bibb Correctional Facility near Brent will relieve some of the pressure on counties, but it may not be enough.

Each state prisoner is worth another $1.75 (for food) to Pike County, but when about half of the jail’s capacity is filled with these inmates, it is not enough.

Corrections Commissioner Mike Haley said the state accepted 7,477 prisoners from county jails last year.

As of Jan. 18, the state had taken back custody of 515 prisoners.

But, it has not resolved the problem in the county jails, Haley reported during a budget hearing with the Joint Legislative Committee on Finances and Budgets.

With 2,254 state prisoners in county jails, it will not take long before the 2,000 backlog level is reached. Of those more than 2,000 state inmates, 1,696 had been in the county jails in violation of the settlement.

Haley reported another 300 beds could be available by the summer, but no other expansions are in the near future.

He told the committee his department needs $600 million to $750 million to construct new prisons to prevent overcrowding in the next decade. Another $150 million will be necessary to keep those beds in use.

The Sentencing Institute found the cost of building and operating 7,000 additional prison beds is about $350 million. That breaks down to $40,000 per bed in construction costs and $10,000 per bed in annual operating costs.