Ward: State must ‘tackle drug epidemic’ to fight prison overcrowding

Published 2:15 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

Alabama must combat a growing “drug epidemic” if it is to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons, an Alabaster state senator said after attending a recent national criminal justice policy summit.



The Council of State Governments Justice Center gathered state and local leaders from across the nation―including respected legislators, court and law enforcement officials and cabinet secretaries―to discuss complex criminal justice policies at its annual Board of Directors meeting during the week of Sept. 17 in Memphis, Tenn.

Alabama state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, participated in discussions among the bipartisan group of board members who gathered to determine the best ways to take on issues such as lowering recidivism rates among people who were formerly incarcerated, improving law enforcement’s response to people with mental disorders and reducing schools’ dependence on suspension and expulsion in response to student misconduct.

After returning from the meeting, Ward said he obtained several ideas to help combat overcrowding in Alabama prisons, which are at nearly double their capacity.

“There were a couple of good ideas that I think can work here,” Ward said during a Sept. 23 interview. “We’ve got to strengthen our work release programs, we’ve got to tackle the drug epidemic and we’ve got to strengthen our alternative sentencing programs like our drug and mental health courts.”

In addition to reviewing the status of these respective projects, board members provided input to help shape the Justice Center’s future priorities. In planning for the upcoming year, the group examined options for helping state and local leaders undertake issues related to employment challenges for people with criminal records; reducing the prevalence of mental and substance use disorders in jails; and improving data collection in states’ juvenile justice systems.

Ward said speaking with the bipartisan group of legislators from across the nation allowed everyone in attendance to share ideas and best practices when dealing with prison-related issues.

“We shared some very useful information and best practices,” Ward said. “It’s a good way of not reinventing the wheel. You can see what has worked, and what hasn’t worked, in other parts of the country.”