1 year ago

Kay Ivey: An Alabama solution to rebuilding the Alabama Corrections System

In order to correct a problem, you must first admit there is a problem. In Alabama, we have a problem. Our problem is our state’s corrections system.

Like many other states, issues of violence, poor living conditions and mental illness persist within our system. These issues, and others, are exacerbated by a crowded inmate population, correctional and health care staffing challenges, and aging prison infrastructure – each piece compounding the others.

We have a problem in Alabama, and we have waited far too long to address it. The path forward to resolve these problems is clear and obvious. However, this path is neither quick nor simple.

First, we must increase our correctional staffing levels by improving the pay scale for correctional officers and expanding our recruiting efforts. Second, we must construct prison facilities that meet the needs of a criminal justice system in the 21st century.

We have already started making strides toward reducing our prison population and increasing staffing levels. In 2015, the Alabama Legislature passed historic criminal justice reform legislation that greatly reduced the number of inmates in Alabama prisons. Thanks to members of the Legislature, the state’s prison population has decreased from nearly 200 percent of capacity to approximately 160 percent, still too large but an important step in the right direction.

Also in 2018, the Legislature helped improve our system by increasing funding for correctional and health services staffing. An additional $86 million was appropriated for the state’s 2018 and 2019 fiscal years to retain new staffing for medical and mental health services and to reduce the turnover rate of correctional staffing. For the upcoming regular session, my budget proposal will include an additional $31 million to hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all security personnel to make their salary competitive given current market conditions in Alabama.

Alabama currently sits under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of correctional officers in the next two years. Although I disagree with many aspects of the lawsuit that led to this order, the fact of the matter is that it compels us to make staffing levels a necessary and vital part of the solution to our problem.

In December, we saw our first increase in the number of correctional officers in years. With a rising retention rate, we can begin adding to our officer ranks, rather than simply maintaining our current staffing levels. This is a difficult task, but because of the commitment from members of the Legislature, we are now well on our way to addressing our staffing challenges.

Next, we must improve the conditions in which we house inmates. “Deplorable,” “horrendous” and “inadequate” are words which have been used to describe them. Our existing facilities need $750 million in maintenance alone. Last year, we closed the Draper Correctional Facility, a 79-year-old prison, because it was simply too costly to repair. Without costly maintenance, many other facilities may require closing as well. Repairing these facilities that do not meet the needs of today’s criminal justice system would be wasteful and ineffective. We must put aside politics of the past and fix this problem for the betterment of our state.

Alabama must have new prison facilities because we must have better conditions, we must have better safety, and we must have better programs. The Department of Corrections hired a project management team that recommended we build three new regional men’s prisons. Of the three new facilities, one will have additional space centralizing services for special needs populations: the aged, the infirmed and those with mental health conditions. Additionally, there will be space in each new facility for educational and vocational training programs.

These facilities will be a valuable and lasting investment in the future of our state. On average, 95 percent of our inmates, once they have completed their sentence and are eligible for release, will be returning to the cities, towns, communities and neighborhoods within Alabama. This investment will secure our opportunity to release these individuals back into society as more educated and more productive, law-abiding citizens.

The investment in these new facilities will also ensure that we retain control of our correctional system. Across this nation, federal courts are intervening in unprecedented ways into the operations of correctional systems. In 2009, three federal judges ordered the release of thousands of inmates in the California prison system. Some estimate this order resulted in the release of more than 40,000 inmates. Following the release of these inmates, one study into the impact of this mass release called the increases in crime rates “alarming.” So, our public safety also demands this investment.

Today, the Department of Corrections is preparing a “request for proposals” for distribution to contractors in Alabama and across the nation, asking for bids to build these new prisons. By taking this step, we will – for the first time – receive the most accurate view of the real cost of building these new facilities.

Some opponents of this plan say that it is too costly. Here in Alabama and across our country, we have a set of laws to which every person must adhere. However, no matter what crime was committed, every human being deserves a certain level of care. I say to you that it is and will continue to be costly to provide adequate living conditions and health care for the more than 20,000 adults in our corrections system, to maintain aging facilities, and to sustain public safety.

Others say special interests have a hand in this plan; that could not be further from the truth. In fact, I make a promise to you that part of this next step is to publicly provide the real costs we receive from contractors and to work closely with the Legislature to determine the most cost-effective way of moving forward. Whatever we do will be the best and most fiscally responsible decision for the state of Alabama.

A tough decision will have to be made in the very near future. With the continued support from the Alabama Legislature and with the added support from the people of Alabama, I am putting forth this plan to make “Trouble in Alabama Prisons” a headline of the past.

As we work together, we will solve this problem and make the situation better for those incarcerated, the employees who care for them, and the entire state of Alabama.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama

A letter from U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to all Alabamians about 2020 Census

More than 50 million households, representing more than one-third of the nation, already have responded to the 2020 Census. The census happens once every 10 years, and your response affects allocation of congressional seats and federal funds to your community — for things like schools, hospitals, roads and emergency services.

Please respond to the census today. It takes less than 10 minutes to fill out the form online at 2020census.gov, over the phone to the number on the form you received or on paper through mail.

As of April 1, only 39.4% of Alabama households have responded. We ask your help in making sure Alabama gets a complete and accurate count of all people residing in the state as of Census Day, April 1.

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Your data are encrypted from the instant we receive your response, so it is well protected. Your responses are not shared with anyone else, including law enforcement. Census responses are protected by federal law, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Almost all households in Alabama have received multiple invitations to respond by phone and by mail. If you have not received a paper questionnaire yet and have not responded, it will be delivered starting April 8. Your state and nation thank you for taking action on behalf of your community by responding to the 2020 Census.

Wilbur L. Ross, Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce

RELATED: Census Day 2020: Alabamians urged to get counted

9 hours ago

Census Day 2020: Alabamians urged to get counted

April 1 is officially Census Day across the United States of America, and leaders of every type are urging citizens to take the 10 minutes necessary to fill out their census documents.

April 1 is designated as Census Day because when an individual fills out their census form, they are supposed to list where they were living on April 1.

The United States Census is an official count of every person living in the country. It is required by the Constitution to be conducted every 10 years.

The results decide how many representatives in Congress, tax dollars and Electoral College votes each state gets.

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Because the estimated growth of Alabama’s population has lagged behind several other states for the last 10 years, many observers believe the Yellowhammer State is one of the most at risk of losing a seat in Congress and billions of federal funding along with it.

“The COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of state representation on a national level. If we lose a representative due to a low Census count, that would mean one less voice advocating for Alabama’s needs during critical times in the future,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey commented in a statement on Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) tweeted Wednesday, “I know we’re all stuck at home so I encourage you to fill out the 2020 Census — it only takes a few minutes.”

 

(Census Bureau/Screenshot)

So far, Shelby County has the highest response rate with 47.7% of residents responding. Madison County is close behind in second place with 47.2% responding. North Alabama as a region has been better about filling out their census forms.

All people living in the United States are required to be counted by the census, so efforts are being made to contact people who immigrated to the country illegally in addition to recognized American citizens.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon has previously indicated the State is taking special measures to count the undocumented population within its borders.

Though the Census Bureau has been forced to temporarily suspend their in-person response organization, the employees will begin conducting the surveys with households that have not responded later this year.

According to the Associated Press, the final counts are due to be reported to the federal government by December 31.

Alabamians can fill out their census forms here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

10 hours ago

Preventing death by allowing ‘essential’ murder

We live in wild times.

I’ve watched people all across the political spectrum in recent days deliver impassioned speeches about the need to take extraordinary measures to preserve human life. They say they believe the elderly and vulnerable are just as deserving of a chance to live as any other.

They are right.

Human life is sacred and should be treated as such from the womb to the tomb.

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But since we live in an age of cognitive dissonance and crumbling reason, the same people who will gladly burn the economy to the ground to save grandpa will sue you for the right to keep killing unborn children, even amid this crisis.

In Alabama, it looks like this: on March 27, Governor Kay Ivey issued an order suspending nonessential medical and dental care as part of a comprehensive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Temporarily eliminating procedures that are not medically necessary reserves scarce PPEs for use where critically needed and reduces the number of people gathering in clinics and potentially spreading the virus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris stipulated that abortion clinics were providing an essential service and could continue to operate.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that he believed that the original order applied to all elective medical and dental procedures. And as elective abortion is not emergency care and treats no disease process, they should not be exempt from the order.

Enter the ACLU, which filed a petition on behalf of abortion providers with the federal courts, asking for an emergency order to prevent state authorities from closing them down; they want abortion classified as an “essential” service.

They don’t believe that abortion clinics should have to live up to the same deal that thousands of other medical providers and citizens are currently living up to, for the greater good. United States District Judge Myron Thompson issued just such an injunction late on March 30, keeping abortion clinics open and temporarily exempting them from the standards of the governors’ mandate. The court will hear arguments on the matter in full on April 13.

Where do I even begin?

Under the law, women currently have a right to abortion services. Likewise, I have the right to seek all manner of medical and dental procedures, many of which are essential preventative care: pap smears, mammograms, dermatological cancer screenings, x-rays, etc. Under normal circumstances, I even have the right to seek all sorts of nonessential medical procedures that improve the quality of my life: therapies or cosmetic procedures for a variety of conditions and complaints.

But these are not normal times, and pregnancy is not an illness.

And our government – for better or for worse – has the power to temporarily restrain ordinary civil liberties to respond to a crisis, as the Governor has in this case.

Pregnancy may be unplanned or undesired. But it is not a disease.

The vast majority of Americans understand that our resources must, for the near future, be prioritized for the treatment of actual disease processes and emergency healthcare that won’t wait.

But if you say something – no matter how divorced from facts – enough times, you start to believe it. And in this case, the abortion industry mantra that “abortion is healthcare” has been repeated so often that a significant number of activists and their acolytes believe it.

Those of us who think that children in utero are just as sacred as the elderly and the frail would point out that abortion is a kind of “healthcare” that always leaves one of its two patients dead.

The feminist in me is sickened of the degrading presumption that lives inside of the abortion-as-healthcare mentality: that women lack the agency and the intelligence to prevent pregnancy in the first place. That pregnancy is something that just spontaneously happens to us without our consent or participation because the basics of biology are just too hard for little ole us.

Victims of rape or abuse are obvious exceptions to this rule, and only a tiny percentage of elective abortions, so save yourself the pithy email.

It’s a pitifully low view of women. It’s a tragically low view of life.

And now, the abortion industry wants to be held out as exceptional and granted exclusive rights. They want their elective procedure deemed more important than all the other elective procedures and more important than the fight to save their neighbors’ lives.

It is not.

Because of this pandemic, there are people from all walks of life on hold for medical care that is far more consequential to their ongoing physical health than the potential abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Why must heart patients, diabetics, and cancer patients put skin in the game of achieving our collective good while abortion seekers break the social contract and go right on with their desires?

Whether you think abortion should generally be legal or not, it’s certainly no more essential than a million other types of medical care that Alabamians are doing without in this moment of crisis.
Providers of elective abortion are not deserving of special consideration.

No one can honestly argue we are protecting at-risk people from death by allowing the murder of babies as an “essential” service.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

10 hours ago

Merrill: Alabama’s ‘greatest champion and favorite son’ Richard Shelby delivers once again

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill on Wednesday released a statement praising U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby’s role (R-AL) in the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

Merrill also touted the overall leadership being provided to the nation by Trump, as well as the work Governor Kay Ivey is doing for the Yellowhammer State.

Shelby is Alabama’s longest serving senator, and his accomplishments for his home state are well recognized by political observers. Merrill outlined that the COVID-19 stimulus package is merely the latest example of Shelby delivering for his fellow Alabamians.

“Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done,” Merrill stated.

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“The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby,” he continued. “How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’”

There were reports that Democrats were trying to insert provisions related to the Green New Deal into the package, as well as voting measures championed by the left that Merrill and others believed could have jeopardized election security and increased voter fraud.

“I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state,” Merrill commented.

He said, “Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.”

“After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations,” the secretary of state added. “Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.”

Merrill concluded by lauding the stalwart service of Shelby, as well as casting an optimistic and unifying message as the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need,” he advised.

“At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!” Merrill concluded.

RELATED: ‘From Alabama to the Moon’ — Richard Shelby is the driving force making America’s space dreams a reality

Merrill’s full statement as follows:

As we navigate these unchartered waters, we must remember that Alabama has a lot to be grateful for.

The leadership exemplified by state and national leaders like President Donald J. Trump, United States Senator Richard Shelby and Governor Kay Ivey should not go unnoticed.

Our state is incredibly lucky to have leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for Alabama, which is precisely what Senator Shelby has done.

The historic coronavirus relief package recently appropriated to the states would not have been possible without the leadership and guidance of Senator Shelby.

How do I know this? I know this to be true because those words came straight from Senator Mitch McConnell and his team. When liberal extremists pushed their agenda, Senator Shelby drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no farther!’

I am most grateful for the $400 million provided by Congress to protect the 2020 elections. I am also thankful for the provisions that allow each state to do what is best for that state.

Senator Shelby and his team have been receptive and engaged in finding proactive solutions to ensure the safety and security of our elections are not compromised.

After countless calls from me and other election officials from across the country, Senator Shelby made it a priority to see that states were granted the flexibility to best accommodate their respective communities under the bill’s stipulations.

Unlike others who have attempted to implement nationwide election changes – many that would increase the likelihood for voter fraud and voter intimidation to be committed – Senator Shelby has proven yet again that federal interference into the elections process in unwarranted and unnecessary.

While we work to get through these trying times, we must remember there is much to be grateful for, such as the collaboration of federal, state and local officials across the country who are working together to provide assistance to those who are most in need.

At the forefront of this fight, finding a solution to the problems we face is Alabama’s Senior Senator, our greatest champion and favorite son, United States Senator Richard C. Shelby!

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

6 suggestions to protect yourself from stimulus check scams

Congress moved quickly to help the American public with a $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Unfortunately, fraud experts believe scammers will move just as quickly to try to take your share away. The key is to arm yourself with information.

“No doubt, there will be fake messages that will make countless claims,” said Don White, head of Corporate Security at Regions Bank. “Scammers may text, email or call you, asking for your banking information or claiming they can process your stimulus payment for you. Don’t take the bait. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, email or phone to someone you do not know who is soliciting you.”

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The bipartisan legislation to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic includes economic relief for American taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks. Each eligible adult will receive up to $1,200, based on gross income.

According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the checks could go out in the next two weeks, although there are still questions as to how the money will be distributed. For example, someone who received a refund on 2019 taxes via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) could receive a direct deposit.

Meanwhile, scammers are ready to take advantage by reaching out and saying your account information is needed, or that you can have their relief check for a small fee.

To avoid fraud, consider these suggestions:

1. Hang up. Don’t reply. The IRS, Treasury Department or other government agencies will not call, email or text message people to collect account information, Social Security numbers or credit card information. Anyone who does is likely a scammer, White said.

2. Do not pay anyone offering to get your stimulus funds early or sell you additional stimulus checks. This is a promise that they will not be able to fulfill.

3. Enroll in your bank’s or credit card company’s online and mobile applications to monitor your account activity frequently, looking for suspicious activity.

4. Avoid clicking on unknown links, which may expose you to viruses or malware.

5. While online, verify the legitimacy of websites you visit.

– Turn on browser tools, which can help identify fraudulent websites.

– Ensure the websites are secure and encrypted with HTTPS.

– Look for links that are broken or take you away from the original website.

– Shop through websites you know and trust.

6. As always, slow down, verify, and verify again the legitimacy of financial transactions before approving. Look for changes to account numbers, phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying information.

“We are seeing a spike in fraud activity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jon Kucharski, Fraud Strategy Manager at Regions. “No matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. Just keep in mind, these unusual times require patience and a little extra vigilance to keep your finances safe.”

(Courtesy of Regions)