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Alabama Senate advances bill to create new supervisory roles for state prisons

On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate County and Municipal Government Committee voted to give a favorable report to legislation creating new supervisory positions at the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). SB322, sponsored by State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville).

Sen. Chambliss chairs the Joint Prison Oversight Committee. That committee holds an annual public hearing every year. In December, the families of incarcerated Alabamians and formerly incarcerated persons testified before that committee about what they claim happens inside Alabama’s prisons.

“That was a very difficult meeting, probably the most difficult meeting that I have been in since I have been in the Legislature,” Chambliss said. “Hearing from the families and the different things that are going on or alleged to have been going on.”

“The joint prison oversight committee has been meeting with various persons on what we can to try and assist,” Chambliss continued.

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SB322 would create 15 new positions at the Department of Corrections. As per the bill: 

“This bill would provide that the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections may appoint 15 employees in unclassified positions for the purpose of studying and addressing services provided by the department to constituents and families of inmates. Under existing law, the Joint Prison Oversight Committee exists to examine Alabama’s present and long-term correctional needs. This would require the Joint Prison Oversight Committee to study and address issues related to services provided by the Department of Corrections to constituents and families of inmates.”

Chambliss said that he will make some suggested changes in the bill before it comes to the floor of the Senate, but that he wanted it to get through committee that day.

“I had a good conversation with the personnel department,” Chambliss said. “They have some good changes. I will move it through committee and resolve all the issues.”

Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee said that he has some concerns about the costs, but that he supports the concept of the bill.

 “We are talking about 15 people, we are talking about high-paid people,” Albritton said, “Our budget on the DOC in the last five years has been increased substantially and we are still struggling with money.”

Albritton said that five years ago a federal judge ordered the state to hire 2,000 more corrections officers. In that time, the state has raised pay substantially, offered signing and retention bonuses, millions in overtime to corrections officers, spent millions advertising job openings at corrections, reduced the training requirements, held job fairs and today ADOC has fewer corrections officers than when they started this effort.

“I have got some issues I would like to talk about how we are going to resolve or move forward with that,” Albritton said. “But I support the effort.”

The committee voted to give the bill a favorable report. It could be considered by the full Senate as early as Thursday.

According to the fiscal note SB322 could cost ADOC an estimated $1.5 million dollars, to (1) appoint administrators as necessary to oversee operations and management of DOC facilities; and (2) appoint up to an additional 15 employees to establish constituent services for DOC. This bill would increase the administrative obligations of the Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee, by an undetermined amount, to study and address services provided by DOC to constituents and families of inmates.

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