MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- At age 24, Keith Hooper was a heroine addict and a major dealer in northern New Jersey. He was never a fan of prison, but calls the last time he was arrested "a rescue."
That's because before he was released into society, he spent a few months at a prisoner drug treatment facility operated by the New Jersey-based Community Education Centers.
Hooper said, "I didn't understand why I was an addict," until receiving counseling at the center.
Now at 40, Hooper is director of operations for one of the company's eight centers in four states.
Hooper's success story has members of the governor's newly appointed prison task force considering the Community Education Centers as one of several possible solutions for easing overcrowding at Alabama's prisons.
The group, appointed by Gov. Bob Riley, is made up of judges, attorneys, educators, legislators and a victim advocate and is headed by Michael Stephens, a former CEO and president of ReLife Inc., a Birmingham-based physical rehabilitation hospital.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Donal Campbell, who was not appointed to the commission, stressed the need for more beds for inmates and, essentially, more prisons to deal with the growing prison population. But he also said substance abuse programs and transitional centers were crucial to keep released convicts from returning to prison.
"If you're going to spend money, you need to dedicate a part of it to some form of treatment," Campbell said, pointing out that about 80 percent of Alabama's inmates have a drug habit. "Otherwise, in my opinion you're wasting your money."
Tutwiler Prison for Women