Despite managing several state funded correctional facilities and work release centers, the Department of Correctionsof the state of Alabama has earned the notoriety of failing to control the overcrowding of the state prison system. In fact, the state of Alabama has the most crowded prisons in the country and this not only reflects on a law and order situation that needs serious improvement but also it is a major imposition on the states resources.
Annually, the state of Alabama spends over $400 million to manage the various incarceration facilities; this does not include the money shelled out to maintain private holding centers in various counties. At the time of writing this article, the Department of Corrections was in charge of 18 correctional facilities including 2 prisons for women, the Farquhar Cattle ranch which uses inmate labor for the provision of essential supplies to incarcerated offenders across the state and the Hamilton Aged and Informed Center which not only takes in mentally unstable inmates but also older offenders.
The DOC also has 11 work release centers where inmates are sent towards the final stages of their sentence. In these facilities, offenders are gradually reintroduced into the community by allowing them to hold employment in the society for remuneration while serving the remainder of their sentence in the correctional center. This not only equips them with essential job and life skills but also gives them an opportunity to incorporate the academic and vocational qualifications that they may have earned when serving time in the prisons.
Also, the money earned by these offenders along with the work experience makes the transition from prison life into the society far simpler and easier.The Alabama Department of Corrections also pays two private incarceration facilities in the mix; the Perry county Detention Center and the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility.
The state government has come under criticism for resorting to the use of private correctional centers; one of the issues that experts and law makers have with these facilities is that these are ‘for profit’ establishments and the management of these centers makes a profit by spending as little as possible for the upkeep of prisoners.This not only deteriorates the conditions in the person system but also impacts rehabilitation efforts, affecting the safety of the community at the end of the day.
Current prison statistics
In 2010, over 26,000 inmates were being held in various correctional facilities across the state including the work release centers. Given the fact that only a few prisoners find their way to these work centers, the majority of the inmates are incarcerated in state prisons which are running at 190 percent capacity.
The entire prison system of the state of Alabama including all correctional and work release centers were only designed to hold about 13,000 inmates while at this point they are working with almost twice as many offenders. This has undoubtedly raised safety concerns for the correctional staff along with several other issues. Unfortunately, the condition is expected to deteriorate further as the state grapples with an ever increasing number of people on their way to the prison.
While Alabama is certainly not the only state to face problems with prison overcrowding, the lack of funding is certainly exacerbating the situation. Unlike the correctional spending of other states which stand at an average of 6.8% of the general fund budget, Alabama spends a mere 2.8% on correctional endeavors. So, even if the state were to double their funding for correctional activities, the problem would still persist.
With no respite in sight for the overstretched and overburdened prison system through sentencing reforms, even the association of the Doc with private entities that operate correctional facilities has failed to address the problem.
Then, there are the social ramifications of this issue to consider. Because it is hard for the correctional staff to manage so many inmates in facilities that are clearly not big enough to house as many prisoners, there is very little that the DOC can do by way of rehabilitation although they do collaborate with Correctional Industries.In the absence of better rehabilitation programs there is a greater chance of recidivism and an increased threat to society.