By: Matt Lally
Russell Co., AL,
As the Alabama Legislature reconvenes this week there are two things at the top of the agenda.
Jobs and possible reform to the tough new immigration law.
But Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor thinks prison and jail overcrowding needs to be, "At the top of their list"
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Alabama's prisons are at 193 percent capacity. That is almost double what they are meant to hold.
At the State Capitol one idea is to start releasing prisoners early. Its an idea that worries Taylor because of the uncertainty involved.
"There's no telling exactly what would happen. You would think that certainly the violent offenders would not be the first to be released, but you really don't have any knowledge of what that would be."
Taylor adds that when prisoners are released they go back to their home counties and if they re offend and get arrested again it puts a strain on local jails. "It's a revolving door," Taylor said, "and that just puts the whole burden on the county again of policing those individuals."
So what should the legislature do? "We have to figure out ways to use technology." Taylor says that Russell County has recently started using a GPS monitoring system that has had good results and may be helpful for use statewide.
Lieutenant Loetta Hollins has been the Russell County Jail Administrator for 15 years and wants to see lawmakers take action. "We need a proactive approach, to see what's out there see what's feasible."
Alabama isn't the first state to face this issue. California lost an overcrowding lawsuit, and was ordered by the US Supreme Court to release thousands of prisoners last year.
A problem Russell County knows all to well.
"I mean this county is the example of what could happen." Sheriff Taylor says, "We were sued by the inmates back in the 80's and we lost that lawsuit in federal court"
With so many options for monitoring both accused and convicted criminals, Taylor says it all goes back to one thing.
"Jails will never go away, GPS monitoring, alcohol monitoring, none of that will ever take the place of locking somebody in a cell."
With the overcrowding at Alabama prisons as they are now, Alabama could find itself in a position similar to the one California was in.
So the cash strapped state has a couple of options.
It can either try to build more prisons to house prisoners, which costs money the state can't afford to spend, or start using prisoner release programs and monitoring.
Last year, California lost their lawsuit at 160 percent capacity, compared to almost 200 percent in Alabama right now.
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