Alabama prison overcrowding

Alabama’s state prisons were built to hold 13,000 inmates. They currently house over 25,000.

That makes Alabama prisons among the most crowded in the nation, and state politicians fear the crowding may soon bring federal intervention to the troubled prison system.

In an effort to relieve some of the overcrowding, lawmakers approved changes to sentencing and probation standards this spring as well as a bond issue for additional prison beds. The changes include the creation of a lower level felony class and the planned hiring of 100 additional probation officers.

St. Clair Prison
Equal Justice Institute

Alabama's new prison chief says nearly all of the challenges the Alabama Department of Corrections currently face are a result of overcrowding.

Retired Air Force Colonel Jefferson Dunn has been the Corrections Commissioner for less than two months, but he says it's clear that the massive overcrowding in Alabama's prison system contributes to prison security risks and staffing issues, as well as turnover in law enforcement.

The Alabama Senate will start debating some sweeping changes to the state's prison system today.

Republican Senator Cam Ward is bringing the bill to the Senate floor, which would change sentencing and probation standards to try and reduce prison overcrowding.

The proposed legislation is based on a year of study by the state prison reform task force. One of the main changes is the creation of a new Class D felony level, which will keep low-level, non-violent offenders out of prison entirely.

Lawmakers could give final approval very soon to legislation establishing charter schools in the state of Alabama.

The Alabama House of Representatives will debate a bill that would allow charter schools in the state this afternoon. That bill is expected to spark a filibuster from Democrats and other opposed lawmakers.

Charter schools are public schools that have freedom from the curriculum and regulation requirements placed on other public schools. Alabama is one of eight states without charter school legislation currently in place.

A state Senate committee is expected to vote on a reform bill today aimed at reducing overcrowding issues in Alabama prisons.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 10 AM today. The bill, among other changes, would create a new felony category, Class D, for low-level theft and drug convictions.

People convicted of class D felonies would be sent to community corrections programs instead of prison.

The bill would also mandate a period of supervision after release from prison.

The Alabama Prison Reform Task Force is currently considering a slate of recommendations from the Council of State Governments to address Alabama's poorly performing prisons.

Some of their suggestions include hiring more probation officers and creating a new, lesser felony class for low-level offenses.

The Task Force estimates that proposed changes should reduce Alabama's prison population from 200% capacity down to 162% by 2021.

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Researchers say despite prison overcrowding concerns, fewer Alabama inmates are being paroled and prisoners are spending more time behind bars before being released on parole.

Council of State Governments research manager Andy Barbee tells the Montgomery Advertiser that the average length of an inmate's prison term before parole release has increased from 30 months in 2009 to 43 months in 2014. Barbee says the number of eligible inmates being released has also fallen from about 42 percent in 2009 to 36 percent in 2013.

A group studying overcrowding in Alabama's prisons has found that arrests are declining and sentences are getting shorter. But Alabama's prisons remain at nearly double their designed capacity.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center presented the statistics to the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force.

The Governor's Office

Gov. Robert Bentley has announced an attempt to overhaul the state's severely overcrowded prison system.

Bentley said Tuesday the state's prisons are filled to nearly twice their collective capacity. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Department of Justice, will examine the system and suggest reforms.

The review comes after a series of stark criticisms. The Department of Justice has called conditions unconstitutional at Alabama's only prison for women.


A prison guard running against Gov. Robert Bentley says Alabama's prison system is at risk of a federal takeover because of severe overcrowding.

At a news conference Thursday in Montgomery, Stacy George said that if elected, he would create a second parole board like Gov. Bob Riley did to expedite the parole of non-violent inmates. George said he will ask the Legislature to repeal the habitual offender law that provides for longer sentences for repeat offenders and he will make the repeal retroactive. He says that could reduce the prison population by more than one-fourth.

Joe Songer-The Birmingham News

In response to concerns about jail overcrowding, state officials are considering a proposal to move some female inmates into a shuttered facility in Jefferson County.