In Auburn, Alabama a panel was convened to discuss the many problems of Alabama’s prisons. The forum was composed of the local sheriff, a county commissioner, nurses, prison ministry volunteers, inmate’s families, college students, and others. Auburn First Baptist Church hosted the forum, coordinated by the David Mathews Center for Civic Life and the Alabama Media Group.
In 2013, Alabama allocated over $400 million on prisons. Although the inmate population is almost 26,000, the Alabama prison’s capacity is at 188 percent.
The forum’s participants acknowledged that the dangerous prison overcrowding was caused by the high incarceration rates of the mentally ill as well as non-violent offenders. One retired nurse noted that many of the locked up mentally ill inmates should instead be placed in mental hospitals and not in prisons. Alabama’s prison system is well known for violence, inmate abuse, and a high recidivism rate. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter in January to the Alabama state government listing over 20 staff members that had sex with inmates at the Julia Tutwiler prison for Women.
Many at the forum stressed that educational programs could teach inmates skills that they could use once they are released. However, Alabama has few educational programs and long waiting lists for the existing programs.
The David Mathews Center for Civic Life, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, which was involved in the forum has supported a series of workshops that discussed three approaches to solving the prison crisis in Alabama:
1. Increase prison capacity and improve basic conditions.
2. Address Root Causes through Education, Support and Rehabilitation.
3. Implement Alternative Approaches to Incarceration.
It is my opinion that approaches two and three are the best solutions to the problem of overcrowded and dangerous prisons in any state. If any state, including Alabama, provided effective educational and rehabilitation programs both approaches would reduce that state’s high recidivism rate. The returning citizens and society would benefit from both humanistic strategies.
By the way, who was missing from the Alabama prison panel? The inmates participating in the forum.
By: Bradley D. Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com