What the state corrections system wants to do with its proposed budget

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The Alabama Department of Corrections is asking for more funding in the upcoming fiscal year's budget, and Governor Kay Ivey's proposal would give it.

Corrections requested $41.7 million dollars more from Alabama's General Fund than it did the previous year, according to state finance officers.

That would include a $26 million increase in personnel costs for raises, a 20% pay increase for security staff, 500 additional corrections officers, and a pay raise. It would also include a small increase for ADA and medical/mental health renovations.

In her State of the State address this week, Governor Kay Ivey said her proposal would allot the agency with a $31 million increase.

"Another problem that has gone unaddressed for years and years is that of the horrendous conditions of our prisons," she stated. "Our next step, however, must be to address the issue of understaffing to improve our recruiting and retention efforts. Alabama is currently under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of corrections officers over the next two years. If we fail to resolve the apparent issue of understaffing in our prisons, federal courts will dictate what needs to happen in our own state."

Jeff Dunn, ADOC Commissioner, said that funding will be helpful to resolving the agency's multiple problems.

"Our biggest need is staffing in the correctional area. Correctional officers on the ground," he said. "The budget she has proposed is going to enable us to address that need, to compensate these officers the way we believe they ought to be compensated for the work that they do, and to get us down the road toward recruiting more officers."

WHNT News 19 has reported extensively on the lack of appropriate mental health care criticism from advocates who demand improvement.

Just this week, ADOC released information about a killing in St. Clair Correctional Facility, for which an inmate will be charged with capital murder over the death of another inmate.

Dunn said more personnel is a first step to progress in addressing what's going on.

"Much like the military, the more boots on the ground the more control you have over the environment. When we can bring more correctional officers to bear on some of these problems when we will begin to solve them the way we want to solve them," he said.

ADOC and Alabama pretty much have to do something. A federal judge said the mental health care in Alabama prisons failed to meet constitutional standards. It must hire more than 2,000 correctional officers between now and 2022.

Dunn said of the progress made this past year, "Last year we made a significant investment on mental health and mental health staffing is up over 24 percent this year."

Lawmakers we talked to this week also appeared eager to prioritize prisons. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) stated that he predicted lawmakers would vote on a budget that gives ADOC most of what it is asking for.

"I think it's going to be a top priority. I'll think they'll come pretty close to it," he said.

Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) added that he was pleased to hear Gov. Ivey express need to fund prisons.

The Alabama Legislature must get through a special session on a possible gas tax before it can debate the state's budgets.

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