Ivey’s Study Group Proposes Prison Reforms Ahead of Legislative Session

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Mary Scott Hodgin, WBHM

Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy made suggestions Tuesday after months of reviewing the state’s troubled prison system.

Members of the task force say they support an expansion of programs that are an alternative to prison. They also recommended an increase in mental health and addiction services. Other proposals included re-classifying some offenses to ones that would ease prison sentences.

State Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, says he supports several of these reform efforts.

“I think we’ve had 20 to 30 or 40 years of the lock-everybody-up mentality and you can see where it has gotten us,” England says. “So I think it’s time to try something different, and I think it’s time to try something revolutionary.”

Some lawmakers voiced support for the state’s plan to build new prisons, saying new buildings are necessary to improve conditions and healthcare.

State Sen. Cam Ward, a Republican from Alabaster, says Alabama has long neglected its prisons and construction is “just 10% of the answer.” He says state leaders need to fund more educational programs for inmates, including GED and technical training.

“We can solve this if we invest in long term solutions,” Ward says.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, a group of prison reform advocates held a rally in front of the offices for the state Department of Corrections. Dothan pastor Kenneth Glasgow led the group as they marched to the state house, chanting “enough is enough.” 

 

“How many deaths, how many suicides, how many overdoses, how many inmate on inmate killings, how many officer on inmate killings is it gonna take for the Department of Justice or the Governor Ivey or somebody to say, ‘hey enough is enough’,” Glasgow said.

Advocates are calling for external oversight of the Department of Corrections, and they want formerly incarcerated people to be part of reform efforts.

The state and Gov. Ivey have faced mounting pressure to improve Alabama’s violent and overcrowded prisons after multiple inmates died in 2019. The U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report of Alabama’s prison system.

The study group says it will release a report in the coming weeks with its final recommendations ahead of the 2020 legislative session.

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