It’s going to pop. Not if, but when.
A silly analogy, yes, but there’s nothing silly about Alabama’s prisons. They are among the most overcrowded in the United States, already at double their intended capacity. In recent weeks, prisoners have starting filming clandestine smartphone videos for YouTube that describe the deplorable crowding and other conditions. That Alabama has gone so long and done nothing to solve this crisis in the making is sinful on the part of Montgomery’s lawmakers.
Those lawmakers returned to work this week, and a few of them are making waves about real reform for the state’s prisons. We commend their efforts, though the Legislature’s history gives us little hope that much will come of it.
Nevertheless, the Legislature must act. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is sponsoring a resolution that would create the new commission that, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, would work with the Council on State Governments to (a.) find the causes of the system’s overcrowding problem and (b.) propose solutions. The state Senate passed Ward’s resolution Thursday. It now heads to the House.
The commission, which would be called the Prison Reform Task Force, would have 26 members and present its findings by the 15th legislative day of next year’s regular session.
It shouldn’t take Ward’s task force more than a year to pinpoint why the state’s prisons are in such bad shape. A much better solution would be for this serious problem to be addressed, head-on, in this session. In other words, now.
Gov. Robert Bentley didn’t focus on the prison crisis during his State of the State address earlier this week, a fitting example of how Montgomery has only rarely done more than the bare minimum to keep Alabama’s prisons from being known as some of the nation’s most dysfunctional. It’s not a surprise, really, that the state’s system has been rife with claims of physical and sexual abuse, civil rights violations and, according to the Department of Justice, a “culture of intimidation.”
Those problems can’t wait another year before the Legislature takes firm action.