State Sen. Ward: Prison reform still ‘urgent,’ Can still be done this session — Says prisons ‘seem to be going well so far’ with coronavirus
Interruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have an impact on the business of the Alabama legislature, including causing efforts to institute reforms to Alabama’s prison system to come into compliance with the federal government to stall.
However, according to State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), the chairman of the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee, hopes for progress during the 2020 session are not entirely lost.
During an interview with Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Ward says that while some of the work of the Alabama legislature will have to be altered, there is a package of measures ready to go on prisons.
“I don’t think you can put it on hold,” Ward said. “Under the constitution, we can be all the way up until May 18. I think you could see a situation where we come back in the first of May, work those last few weeks and just take on priority issues, as such as some form of a bare-bone education budget and the prison issue as well. There’s a couple of other issues we need to follow up with that are priority. But I don’t think it is completely dead yet. I just don’t think we can go into session right now when we’re telling people they can’t go out to eat, but yet we can go into session. I think that sets a bad example on our part.”
“On the prison issue, it is urgent,” he continued. “I think the Feds said they appreciate where we are and the situation we’re in. We had a package of bills right before this pandemic broke out — we passed six bills, a lot of them reentry programs, some mental health, some more oversight for the system — we passed out of the package and felt like we had a pretty good bill we could get a lot of support behind. But then, of course, this happens. But a lot of the bills are still in position that if we came in, they’re one step closer to passing. I think we can do it still. The Feds understand our situation.”
The Shelby County lawmaker also offered an update on how the prison system itself was grappling with the coronavirus breakout and insisted that things seemed to be holding up for the time being.
“Right now, we have to monitor the prison system,” Ward said. “You can’t practice social distancing when you’ve got 165% capacity.”
“Right now, no inmate in the system has been diagnosed with corona[virus],” he continued. “But now the [Department of Corrections] has implemented their emergency protocol — what they do when an outbreak of [tuberculosis] takes place, or any other disease like that — they basically isolate people, deny outside entry, require regular screenings of everyone for fevers, officers and inmates. So, they implemented that. It seems to be going well so far. But it is going to be a day-to-day battle just like it is for us in the public.”