MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's corrections chief on Thursday asked lawmakers for a $42 million funding increase as the state tries to combat “unacceptably high” violence and comply with a federal court order to add 2,200 officers by 2022.
Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn made the request during budget hearings, as he acknowledged the system continues to struggle with violence.
Because of low staffing, overcrowding and contraband, Dunn said, “our violence numbers again were unacceptably high.”
"I’ll say it again. They are unacceptably high," he said.
State prisons are expected to be a major focus for lawmakers in the legislative session that begins Feb. 4. The U.S. Department of Justice last year threatened to sue the state over prison conditions.
Dunn said the state is making progress on the directive to increase prison staff. He said the system has added a net 255 security positions, including a newly created position of basic correctional officer. However, he said the number of inmates behind bars is beginning to rise after years of decreases. He said inmate population increased by 1,100 prisoners last year.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in 2017 that mental health care in state prisons was "horrendously inadequate" and that understaffing was an overarching issue behind the unconstitutional conditions. He subsequently ordered the state to add approximately 2,200 officers by 2022.
Some legislators on the budget committees questioned Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Charlie Graddick about the falling pace of paroles. The agency has touted parole denials in recent months.
“I'm afraid based on what I'm hearing you say that you all are retrying cases all over again," said Sen. Bobby Singleton, a Democrat from Greensboro.
Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Charlie Graddick replied, “Just because you are eligible for parole doesn't mean you are going to be paroled."
The agency is seeking an $11 million increase in its budget to hire additional officers.
This story has been edited to correct that the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles has touted parole denials, not that parole denials fell.