MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — A group that represents Alabama’s counties is asking the state to decide when it comes to overcrowded jails: either change the law or give them more funding to house inmates.
In a recent report by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, changes to the state’s criminal justice system through a prison reform bill passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2015 are having a negative effect on the state’s county jails.
Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza said his jail is not currently at capacity, but it can depend on the given day.
“Occasionally, it is,” Valenza said. “It has been better, it has been worse.”
Valenza said he has about 25 inmates who are waiting to go to the state for mental health treatment.
“We are having to segregate our jail into mental health, infections and aggressive inmates,” he said.
The group collected data from state agencies and a survey of all 67 county budgets shows the number of inmates in county jails across Alabama has almost tripled since 2014, when there were a total of 1,990 inmates in county jails. With changes to felony sentencing laws in 2015 and enforcement procedures for parole and probation violators, the number of inmates housed in county jails rose to over 8,000 by 2018.
“So our population has gone up in direct portion to the decline in the state system,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.
Brasfield said that between 2014 and 2018, the cost to operate county jails has increased by $31 million.
“The cost of operating our jails have gone up more than twice the rate of inflation since 2015,” Brasfield said. “There could be all kinds of reasons for it, but one of those is clearly the influx of state inmates.”
Valenza has a message for lawmakers as they work to fix overcrowding issues at the state level.
“I know they probably have overcrowding issues, but releasing is not the answer,” he said.
Prison reform will be one of many topics discussed when the Legislature returns for its annual session in February.