ALABAMA

Alabama's practice of imposing long sentences on people convicted of nonviolent offenses has locked the state in a perpetual crowding crisis. Spurred by population pressures, state officials recently enacted reforms that could create "breathing room," but more needs to be done. Since 2004, Justice Strategies has conducted research designed to educate the public and supplied state policymakers and advocates with ongoing technical assistance.

Since the release of the Justice Strategies report Alabama Prison Crisis, state lawmakers have taken a major step forward by adopting a system of voluntary sentencing standards for judges. The Alabama Sentencing Commission predicts that the standards will eventually create "breathing room" for corrections officials to strengthen community supervision and create a more rational "punishment continuum." Meanwhile, Alabama prisons remain dangerously overcrowded while hundreds of prisoners are housed in private facilities outside the state.

Efforts to divert drug addicts and other nonviolent criminals away from state prisons are gaining momentum months before Alabama's 2006 legislative session.

On Monday, the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates the legalization of medical marijuana and policy changes in the way America deals with drug addicts, released "Alabama Prison Crisis: A Justice Strategies Policy Report." "Substance abuse is driving the prison crisis," said Kevin Pranis, an analyst with Justice Strategies, the New York-based nonprofit group commissioned to do the report.

Justice Strategies researchers find that nonviolent drug offenses drive explosive prison population growth

Alabama's prisons are dangerously overcrowded and disastrously under-funded. Facilities designed for 13,500 prisoners hold more than 27,000, and Alabama's largest prisons are crammed to three times their design capacity. State corrections officials struggle daily to manage a system characterized by the nation's lowest per-prisoner expenditures and highest ratio of prisoners to guards, along with a death rate that far exceeds the norm.