Short on money, out of prison space and running out of time, Alabama launched its boldest social experiment in decades: increasing paroles by thousands of inmates.
On one level, the plan begun almost two years ago has been a resounding success. The parole board has released 4,174 prisoners from a special docket of nonviolent offenders that was set up in April 2003. Parole officials said most have found jobs and, so far at least, stayed out of trouble.
The plan also has been a quiet disappointment. Despite shedding all those inmates -- on top of the 1,820 paroled through the normal process and the more than 13,500 whose sentences ended or who started the probation portion of a split sentence -- Alabama's overcrowded prison system stands only slightly better off than it did a year ago.
With 23,874 inmates jammed into state prisons, work release centers and boot camps, the prison system has almost twice the 12,943 inmates it was designed to house.
That doesn't include another 3,370 people who are waiting to be transferred from county jails, are serving time in privately run prisons in other states or are housed in alternative arrangements.