State Leaders Discuss Prisoner Reentry And Growing Prison CostsNeighbor-states' Successes In Reducing Crime And Recidivism Reviewed
BIRMINGHAM – Alabama state leaders from all three branches of government came together at the Smart on Crime Reentry Policy Summit this week to discuss the urgent need to control prison crowding, corrections spending, and recidivism rates.
Each year, Alabama invests nearly $500 million to operate its prison system. Even with this investment, more than 40 percent of Alabama's prisoners are repeat offenders. This summit represented a key first step in bringing together stakeholders from across the state to discuss strategies for addressing these challenges.
"Prison overcrowding is a major concern, and we are working to identify innovative solutions," Gov. Robert Bentley said. "Wednesday's summit was a good opportunity to discuss how Alabama can explore a variety of options on how to be smart on crime while also protecting public safety. The Department of Corrections is doing a good job with the resources available, and we are working together to address this issue in a comprehensive manner."
State leaders from North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia joined experts from around the country in Birmingham to participate in the summit and discuss how an approach called Justice Reinvestment worked in their states to improve public safety, reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods.
All three states enacted policies to improve the quality of supervision and treatment for individuals on probation and parole, and have seen outcomes improve and costs fall as a result. Forum participants then broke into smaller panels to discuss how those strategies might be applied in Alabama.
"Successful reentry programs help those who have served their time in prison develop into law-abiding citizens," said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance. "These programs reduce crime and the amount of taxpayer money that must be spent on prisons. I'm grateful for the strong leadership shown by our governor, legislators and judges, and their willingness to explore evidence-based, data-driven policies used so successfully by our neighbors in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia to reduce crime and control cost," she said.
"The course correction we need in our criminal justice system won't happen overnight," Alabama Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said. "Large-scale reentry programs must be addressed by a broad group of criminal justice stakeholders and include more than just the prison commissioner tweaking policies. We need to establish proven reentry models to break the cycle of crime and incarceration, making our communities safer, and wisely investing the taxpayer dollars."
Alabama Sen. Cam Ward emphasized the need for immediate action. "We cannot afford to wait any longer to address prison crowding, corrections spending and recidivism, especially when we've seen other states succeed in similar efforts. I hope my colleagues will join me in an effort to craft policy solutions to ensure our corrections resources have the greatest public safety impact possible," he said.