Prison Reform Task Force talks plans to alleviate prison overcrowding

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of the state's task force on prison reform, wants to find solutions for overcrowded prisons in Alabama. (Contributed)

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of the state’s task force on prison reform, wants to find solutions for overcrowded prisons in Alabama. (Contributed)

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA–A common goal shared between Sen. Cam Ward, R–Alabaster, Research Manager Andy Barbee and others on the task force is to fix the overcrowded prisons in Alabama the smartest and most cost-efficient way possible.

The Prison Reform Task Force met for a fourth time on Thursday, Jan. 29, and a crowd of approximately 75 people gathered at the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility in Columbiana to hear a presentation from Ward and Barbee on the importance of addressing the prison overcrowding, as well as increasing public safety.

“As many of you know, the system is almost at 200 percent capacity,” Barbee said referring to the overcrowding prison problem. “Has been for a good bit of time, and the thought of trying to build its way out of that crowding situation is one that deems to be implausible.”

According to the presentation, to reduce the operational capacity from 200 to 130 percent would require adding 6,000 prison beds. This amounts to approximately $420 million in construction costs and $93 million in annual operating costs. It would cost $840 million in construction costs to achieve 100 percent operational capacity.

The main goals the Prison Reform Task Force seeks to accomplish are to lower recidivism, increase accountability, avert costs, increase public safety and address the needs of crime victims before the release of the final report the first week in March.

Along with addressing the overcrowding situation, the task force wants to reduce probation and parole officers caseloads from 200 cases per year to 100 and address the parole approval rates that have declined in recent years, resulting in longer lengths of stay in prison.

“It will cost our state so much money if the federal government steps in and handles it for us,” Ward said during a previous interview. “I believe Alabama can fix this a lot better than the federal courts can.”

The fifth and final prison reform task force meeting will be Thursday, Feb. 26 at 1 p.m.