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Legislative inaction stymies Alabama prison reform

Stephen Brown, Chief of Staff of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ALDOC), met with the diocesan Commission on Prison Ministry June 13 and provided a cordial and candid overview of the department's organization, policies, and challenges. Following is the second or two articles on the interview. –Ed.

by Wayne Verry and Ed Richards

A new Alabama Prison Reform Law was passed in 2015, including these provisions to help reduce the prison population and enhance the ability of inmates to return to society:

  • Strengthen the community-based supervision of former inmates;

  • Increase substance treatment and recidivism-reduction programs;

  • Prioritize prison space for people convicted of violent and dangerous crimes;

  • Add 123 parole officers;

  • Establish a new Class D felony to reduce the prison population.

During the 2016 legislative session, ALDOC requested $26 million to implement these new initiatives, and received $16 million.

ALDOC also requested authorization for an $800 million bond to construct four new large regional prisons (three male prisons, each with capacity of 4,000 inmates, plus a new women's prison.) The significant cost savings in the operation of the new prisons would be used to help pay for the bond. The legislature failed to pass the bill.

Mr. Brown described a lack of coordination between ALDOC, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole, and the many community support agencies and programs that seek to help former inmates. This makes it difficult for inmates to get out of prison and become productive members of society.

Besides the 16 major prisons in Alabama, there are 33 Community Corrections Programs (CCPs) that help reduce the prison population. CCPs are operated by local non-profit organizations, and are intended to provide corrective/rehabilitative support for non-violent offenders.

As Mr. Brown concluded his remarks, the Commission members discussed with him how the Episcopal Church can support the Department of Corrections and those in prison. We agreed that the most significant task would be to produce an educational presentation to share with our parish families, which would help people become more aware of the problems and challenges of the prison system and the issues of prison reform. We will be pursuing the development of this educational tool in the coming months.

We want to express our thanks to Mr. Brown for his time and his most informative presentation. And may our Lord continue to watch over those in prison, the prison staff, victims of crime, and their families. May we all respect the dignity of every human being.

Ed Richards is a vocational deacon serving with St. Thomas, Laguna Beach, and chair of the diocesan Commission on Prison Ministry. Wayne Verry is a member of St. Paul's, Foley, and a member of the Commission.


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