The United States incarcerated approximately 2.2 million people in state and federal institutions in 2011, the most recent year for which the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has published data. In Alabama, according to the Montgomery based Equal Justice Initiative, we have 28,000 inmates behind bars in a system built to accommodate 14,000.
EJI also noted that Alabama spends $26 per day per prisoner while the national average is $62 a day; when it comes to expenditures for medical care for inmates, Alabama is dead last in the nation.
I don't think there's anyone who would argue that Alabama's prison system is not in turmoil. A prison population that is twice capacity and funding that is 42% of the national average is ripe for problems – and we have them.
New Alabama sentencing guidelines that went into effect on October 1st were enacted to cope with our overcrowded prison system by removing some mandatory sentencing and adopting a worksheet to calculate future sentencing of nonviolent offenders, thereby reducing sentences and freeing up prison space for the most violent offenders.
While judges and prosecutors have expressed concern about these new guidelines, the unfortunate fact of the matter is Alabama doesn't have the space or the funding to adequately incarcerate the inmates we have now and something needed to be done.
While we feel everyone that has "done the crime should do their time," we support these new sentencing guidelines as a step to manage the prison overcrowding reality in our state. We will continue to look for and support any idea or measure that can reduce the number of people entering into our state's prison system.
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