Last year the state raided a trust fund to put more cash into the state prison system (among other items in the General Fund).
Proponents of the trust fund raid claimed that thousands of inmates would have to be put out on parole if the money wasn’t moved.
Often ignored — then and now — is the fact that parole often is the equivalent of prisoners being released on their own because the system that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles oversees also is badly under-funded and understaffed.
The prison system employed 403 parole supervisors in 2007. Today, there are 350 to oversee the 67,410 former inmates — an average of 193 cases per officers. This means that with all the other work they must do — the drug testing, counseling, employment assistance and other services — the average officer can spend only about 10 minutes per month with each parolee. Some officers supervise more than 300 parolees. The nationally recommended average is between 60 cases to 75 cases per officer.
By Alabama standards, the officer’s pay is pretty good (averaging $41,566 per year), but better pay and benefits are available elsewhere, often with the federal government. So officers often leave and, due to budget cuts, they’re not always replaced.
The job is difficult. Offenders must check in and be evaluated, though with so many clients to see, the evaluations aren’t as thorough as needed. There is paperwork. There are home visits. And if a parolee does not show up, they must be tracked down. Local law enforcement helps when it can, but the simple fact is that some parolees do not get the supervision they need.
The probation officers the state employs do a remarkable job. The number of repeat offenders is below the national average. Still, consider how much better the record would be if caseloads were smaller, if equipment was updated, the state transitional center was expanded and more staff was hired. Although the state budget did increase appropriations slightly this year, the state Legislature gives Pardons and Paroles less than $2 a day to handle each client.
Until the Legislature figures out a way to properly fund such essential services, this will remain one more aspect of government that can’t meet its responsibilities to the people of Alabama.