Alabama prison reform blamed for county jail overcrowding

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. – Sheriff Rick Singleton is asking the Lauderdale County Commission to allow residents to vote on his proposal to increase property taxes in order to pay for a new jail. Singleton says overcrowding has reached a dangerous level, but what is causing inmate populations to rise so significantly?

“We have reached a crisis point,” stated Singleton. On Monday morning, the population of the Lauderdale County Detention Center was more than 120 over their capacity. “We’re going to probably break that 300 daily average by the end of the year,” Singleton explained.

Since 2015, the average daily population at the Lauderdale County Detention Center has increased by 50. Sheriff Singleton says the increase is a direct result of the state’s effort to cut down on their prison populations.

“The prison reform that was passed two years ago is the very reason that we are seeing this increase in daily population in our county jail, and I know other counties are experiencing the same thing,” said Singleton.

In northwest Alabama, the Franklin County Jail has seen their daily average increase to 140 from 80 before the act was signed into law.

In Colbert County, Sheriff Frank Wiliamson says their average was between 60 and 70. Now due to prison reform he accounts for 124 inmates, and many of them have to be housed in other jails.

“All the Class-D felonies, which are all of these property offenders that are stealing everything, they spend their time in the county jails. They don’t go to the state penitentiary anymore,” Singleton stated.

All three sheriffs agreed, the state pushed its overcrowding issues down to the counties for the counties to deal with.

In order to keep his inmate populations down, Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson says he periodically meets with judges to find nonviolent offenders who can be released. Other jails are having to do the same thing as well.