New state prison chief seeks more solutions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Small county jails in Alabama may perhaps find relief from the lingering problems of overcrowding in the near future with the presence of new Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell, who has been on the job for about two weeks now.

&uot;I have been busy (in the first two weeks),&uot; said Campbell during an interview Tuesday. &uot;I knew what to expect coming in, but I am beginning to find out more about the issues we are dealing with and will be facing, especially with the issues of overcrowding and things like that.&uot;

Campbell has major goals of trying to comply with orders of finding more space for male and female state inmates, removing state prisoners from county jails and eventually building more prisons.

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This, of course, would mean good news for jails such as the Pike County one, which have been beset for months by overcrowding, due in large part to the presence of state prisoners.

A major initial priority is the Tutwiler Prison for Women, as U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson has given the state until Feb. 21 to file a plan to eliminate massive constitutional violations at the facility, built in 1942 to hold 365 inmates, but now numbers more than 1,000.

Thompson has called the facility, &uot;a ticking time bomb.&uot;

&uot;The first thing we have to do is find ways to comply with court orders,&uot; said Campbell. &uot;That is the first order of business.&uot;

Campbell comes to the state from Tennessee, where he served as prison commissioner for the past eight years. During his tenure there he oversaw about 18,000 inmates in the state’s 14 prison facilities, 5,200 employees and a budget of more than $500 million. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections web site, his leadership saved Tennessee taxpayers an estimated $20 million during his tenure through efforts to reduce operational costs.

&uot;My search for the best and brightest to help improve Alabama doesn’t end at her borders and thankfully I’ve convinced Donal Campbell to move down to Montgomery and overhaul our state’s troubled prison system,&uot; said Governor Bob Riley immediately after Campbell’s appointment. &uot;Donal is motivated, experienced and eager to reform Alabama’s Department of Corrections.&uot;

Campbell said he hopes to maintain a good level of communication with the sheriffs and other local law enforcement agents in the state.

&uot;I hope to have good communication with everyone who calls (the office),&uot; said Campbell.

Campbell has worked in prisons in Tennessee since 1977, and served as prison commissioner under Gov. Don Sundquist.

During his introduction, Campbell noted Alabama’s tight budget and lack of space.

&uot;I think we’re in a crisis to bring on more beds more quickly,&uot; said Campbell. &uot;I don’t think there’s any money that can be saved in Alabama. (Improving the prison system) will take some resources. The governor has made a commitment to look at all areas to find resources to resolve the problems that exist here in Alabama.&uot;

He said he remains optimistic that more funding will be allocated to help with the prison woes.

&uot;I will believe (more funding will come) until the very end,&uot; said Campbell.

He said he also believes in the commitment that Riley has in terms of repairing the prison problem.

&uot;That was a major part of my interest (in taking the state prison commissioner job),&uot; said Campbell. &uot;But it is important to remember that the problems are not just the governor’s or the legislature’s, but it is a problem for the people of Alabama. It is a State of Alabama problem. When things happen with or at the prisons it can affect a lot of people.&uot;