US Marijuana Party

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Special Session for Prison Crisis?

Second special session considered

By Jannell McGrew
Montgomery Advertiser

The first special legislative session this year ended just weeks ago, but there already is talk of another one, possibly to grapple with the state's crowded prison system.

Gov. Bob Riley has not yet said whether he will call a special session to address needs within the Alabama Department of Corrections, but his office indicated Monday that the possibility of a special session is not just a rumor.

"There's a possibility, but no decision has been made," said Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson. "Certainly, the problems that the state is facing with its corrections facilities have been building for decades."

However, the prospect of a special session has drawn criticism from some legislators.

State Rep. John Knight Jr., D-Montgomery, chairman of the House committee that writes the General Fund budget, said he has had some conversations with the governor about a possible special session but added: "I'm not in favor of a special session unless there is an emergency that we need to address."

The Alabama Legislature ended a five-day special session on July 26, approving a $1.5 billion budget, which Riley signed this month.

That budget included more than $22 million in supplemental appropriation for the state DOC as well as some conditional funding.

"I don't see how it can be an emergency when we just finalized the budget," said Knight, D-Montgomery. "We gave them everything the governor requested. We gave them a supplemental appropriation, and there is also a conditional appropriation. The problem we have with prisons we have known that for a long time."

Emerson said the governor has appointed a task force to look at long-term solutions to prison problems. That task force is expected to make its recommendations in October.

"He's waiting to see what the task force recommends," Emerson said.

Some legislators have said that although they'd rather not have to come back to Goat Hill for another special session, they might be willing to return if the need is dire.

"I would prefer not to go into a special session. I would prefer to wait until January, but if it's something that's extraordinary and can't wait, that's our obligation -- to do everything we can do to keep the state running," said state Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, Riley's floor leader in the House.

Hubbard said the prison problem is "obviously a scary situation."

There are some instances in which jails are so crowded that inmates must sleep on mats on the floor.

"I don't think most Alabamians realize how underfunded they are and how ill-manned they are," Hubbard said. "We are always riding the fine line between operating them constitutionally and not providing constitutional facilities. That's because of the funding crisis we have."

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates a special session that uses all of the 12 allowed legislative meeting days and runs close to the 30 calendar-day maximum would cost about $430,000. One that lasts five meeting days, the minimum in which a bill can pass both chambers, during one calendar week would cost about $108,000. In its estimates, the office took into account a follow-up month of work that includes temporary workers


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