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SPLC Responds to Governor Kay Ivey’s Prison Construction Plan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The following statement, in response to Governor Kay Ivey’s prison construction plan, is by Ebony Howard, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“We greet Governor Ivey’s announcement about her plans for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) with hope mitigated by concern. We agree with many of Governor Ivey’s observations and are encouraged by her acknowledgment of the crisis Alabama is facing. She’s right that any solution to Alabama’s to the prison crisis will require increased correctional staffing, which has been mandated by a federal judge. At least some of the existing prisons should eventually be replaced with facilities that promote constitutional conditions and provide prisoners with access to rehabilitative programming. Governor Ivey is correct that 95 percent of the people in ADOC custody will eventually return to their communities, and providing them with more opportunities while incarcerated to become productive citizen upon release is in both their interest and that of the taxpayers.
“However, we are concerned that Governor Ivey’s plan fails to address the roots of Alabama’s prison crisis. Alabama continues to incarcerate its people at among the highest rates in the nation, and has drastically overcrowded prisons as a result. Alabama passed sentencing reforms in 2015 but left multiple opportunities to safely reduce the prison population on the table. Neighboring southern states have moved forward with reforms like minimizing criminalization of marijuana related offenses and increasing threshold amounts for property related offenses that Alabama could consider during the forthcoming session. Implementing these reforms could help reduce Alabama’s prison population from the 160% of capacity it is at now to levels that will be safer, more manageable, and less costly to the state. The governor and legislature should investigate these cost-saving, public-safety-improving measures with at least as much zeal as they are pursuing a costly prison construction plan. We are also gravely concerned that the governor’s budget proposal to fund 500 correctional officers falls terribly short of the steps necessary to comply with the federal court’s order that ADOC hire approximately 2,000 correctional officers by 2022, nor does there appear to be a concrete plan for compliance with the Court’s order.
“Most pressing of all is the staggering loss of life happening within ADOC prisons right now that a multi-year prison construction plan will not solve. Governor Ivey’s request for proposals does nothing to address the suicide epidemic or the pervasive violence that endangers both officers and incarcerated people daily and is currently under active investigation by the Department of Justice.
“To end Alabama’s prison crisis, Governor Ivey and Commission Dunn must engage with advocates to negotiate a comprehensive solution that addresses all of the factors contributing to this crisis by adopting sentencing reform, increasing staffing and decreasing violence, and providing medical and mental health care -- in addition to brick and mortar construction.  We stand at the ready to work with the Governor and the Commissioner, and extend an invitation to them to collaborate with us on this endeavor to craft meaningful Alabama solutions.”