Editorial: Real reform of Alabama prisons — Don’t wait until 2015, lawmakers; time for change is now
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 16, 2014 | 2185 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this Sept. 23, 2013, file photo, inmates sit on their bunks in a dorm at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala. A federal judge in Montgomery approved a settlement to end Alabama’s decades-old practice of segregating HIV-positive inmates from prisoners who are not infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The prison system already has ended the policy at the state’s women’s prison in Wetumpka, and the practice will be phased out in men’s prisons in 2014. Photo: Dave Martin/File/The Associated Press
In this Sept. 23, 2013, file photo, inmates sit on their bunks in a dorm at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala. A federal judge in Montgomery approved a settlement to end Alabama’s decades-old practice of segregating HIV-positive inmates from prisoners who are not infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The prison system already has ended the policy at the state’s women’s prison in Wetumpka, and the practice will be phased out in men’s prisons in 2014. Photo: Dave Martin/File/The Associated Press
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When it comes to the state’s overcrowded and under-funded prison system, Alabama resembles a child who keeps blowing air into an already inflated balloon.

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.
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