Pike County to transfer 10 from jail to state DOC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Ten inmates from the Pike County Jail will receive a change of scenery Friday thanks to a recent court order from a circuit court judge.

According to an order from Circuit Judge William Shashy, the state prison system must now provide additional help to relieve crowding in county jails.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said the court ruling, which boosts the numbers of inmates accepted by the state from 175 to 275 per week, will begin to relieve some of the pressures on county jails.

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However, it is far from a permanent solution to the problems facing the Alabama correctional system.

&uot;The Department of Corrections has worked very well with us. We'll transfer 10 prisoners from the county to state penitentiaries on Friday; as the need arises, we will transfer more,&uot; he said. &uot;But the state has got the same problem as the county. They need more personnel and more funding.&uot;

According to Thomas, Shashy's ruling won't fix the larger problem of too many prisoners and not enough space for them to live. Whether housed in counties or at the state level, he said, the issue remains.

&uot;I'd just as soon deal with it on the front end,&uot; he said. &uot;If they get too many inmates at the state level, they could end up releasing non-violent offenders. Those people are the ones who commit burglaries and thefts.&uot;

According to published reports, the ruling represents a compromise between the counties and state prison officials. Counties had hoped to ship as many as 400 inmates a week to the state, while the state wanted to accept far fewer.

According to Thomas, the county would be capped at 25 inmates a day and the county would be required to give the state at least 72 hours notice before delivering the prisoners.

&uot;We will send more as we need to. As medical problems develop, we're able to get them into the system quickly, which saves the county medical costs if they're state inmates,&uot; he said.

Thomas said that most county prisoners turned over to the state will be incarcerated at Kilby Prison in Mount Meigs.

He also said the problem of prison overcrowding is not one that is unique to the 60-bed jail in Pike County.

&uot;Almost every county in the state is overcrowded,&uot; he said.

As a result of cramped living conditions for Alabama prisoners, Barbour County, along with other counties and sheriffs, filed a suit in 1991 in an attempt to get the state to remove inmates from county jails in a timely manner.

But solutions are far from simple. Though prison construction is a big money endeavor, Thomas said that such a solution, embraced by some states, such as Texas, is not the best answer for Alabama.

&uot;I'm personally not in favor of building more prisons,&uot; he said. &uot;It'd be better to enlarge the capacity of existing prisons and give more bed space. Most prisons are designed for 900-1100 inmates and we just need to increase the bed space of those and add some dormitories to the facilities we've got.&uot;

Thomas also credits state correctional officials for understanding the problems faced by law enforcement. Commissioner Mike Haley, before becoming Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, was an employee of the Alabama Sheriff's Association -- a fact that Thomas said has bearing on his ability to deal with the problem.

&uot;Commissioner Mike Haley understands the situation. He was with the sheriff's departments for years and he knows the problems that the sheriffs face,&uot; he said.

Shashy reprimanded Haley in a June ruling, threatening to jail him and fine the state millions of dollars if the inmates were not removed from county facilities.