Two lawmakers propose alternative to governor’s prison bill

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Two Alabama lawmakers proposed a bill on Wednesday that would serve as an alternative to the governor’s construction plan to relieve prison overcrowding.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, a Democrat from Red Bay, and Rep. Allen Farley, a Republican from McCalla, would pay sheriffs to house 1,500 state inmates in county jails instead of building new state prisons as Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed.

The governor’s legislative director said the proposal was flawed and would not improve prison conditions.

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But Morrow said some counties have room for state inmates. He said others could use the revenue to finance jail construction projects.

“I’m convinced that Alabama sheriffs are the solution to this problem instead of new debt,” Morrow said at a news conference Wednesday. The legislators said they are still drafting the bill and will present it formally when the legislature returns from spring break.

Two decades ago, counties sued the state because of a backlog of state inmates lingering in state jails long after they were sentenced to state prison. Farley and Morrow said the counties, under the proposal, would be paid a daily rate if they wanted to house state inmates and county officials would decide whether to participate.

Farley, a former assistant sheriff of Jefferson County, said he believed there are also management issues within the prison system and that not enough is being done to address gang violence and the sale of drugs and contraband cellphones within prison walls.

Wesley Helton, the governor’s legislative director, said the proposal would not improve conditions in aging prisons and noted it was pushed by lawmakers who have also urged the governor’s impeachment. He said one of the things the department hoped to accomplish was modernizing and improving facilities to be safer and offer more rehabilitation programs for inmates.

“There are a lot of flaws in this plan and that’s why we don’t think it’s suitable for what we want to accomplish,” Helton said.

Bentley initially proposed an $800 million bond issue to build four new prisons. The Alabama Senate approved a revised plan for three prisons, two of which would be built by local authorities and one by the state.

Both Farley and Morrow signed impeachment articles against Bentley last year.