Ala. governor forms study group to address violent, overcrowded prisons

A group of legislators and others will study ways to fix the state’s prison problems

By Mike Cason
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Kay Ivey today announced formation of a group of legislators and others to study ways to fix the state’s violent, overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

The Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy will be chaired by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons and will hold its first meeting on Monday. Lyons served on the Supreme Court from 1998 to 2011.

Other members include Attorney General Steve Marshall, state Sens. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, state Reps. Jim Hill, R-Moody, Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, Finance Director Kelly Butler, and Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

In a news release, Lyons said the study group will help shape data-driven decisions to fix the prisons.

“We will consider the problem of recidivism and steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a released prisoner returning back to state custody,” Lyons said. “We will also look closely at data on the current sentencing laws. As Governor Ivey has made clear, addressing the challenges facing our state’s prisons is multifaceted, and she is certainly helping bring various heads together to move the needle on this critical issue.”

Ivey said, “The people of Alabama are not unaware of the complexities that face our state’s prison system, which take a toll on their hard-earned dollars and negatively impact public safety. The challenges we face are multifaceted, and in turn, a multifaceted solution, driven by data is necessary.”

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that the level of violence and other problems in Alabama’s men’s prisons create conditions that violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.

Ivey’s executive order says the study group will be dissolved on Feb. 4, the first day of the 2020 legislative session.

Lawmakers have previously said they are working with the Alabama Sentencing Commission on proposed changes to sentencing laws to reduce the prison population. The Ivey administration has issued a request seeking companies qualified to build three men’s prisons that the state would lease. The new prisons would house about 10,000 inmates, about half of Alabama’s current prison population. Some of the existing prisons would close under the plan.

The Legislature has increased funding for prisons, partly to raise pay for correctional officers. Alabama prisons have about one-third the number of officers needed and are under a federal court order to add about 2,000 over the next few years.

©2019 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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