Director of EJI calls Gov. Bentley’s prison plan misguided, reckless

Director of EJI calls Gov. Bentley’s prison plan misguided, reckless

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A national bestselling author, attorney and advocate for prisoners and justice in Alabama says building a better prison isn't really the answer for fixing the state's broken system.

Bryan Stevenson is the head of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery. He calls Governor Robert Bentley's plan to build four new prisons misguided and reckless.

He says it's ignoring the real problems going on behind bars: problems riots, abuse, corruption and harassment.

"It's like a team that has a losing record every season that says, 'Well, the solution is to build a new stadium.' That's not going to get you a better team," Stevenson said.

"We're not doing rehabilitation in Alabama. We're certainly not doing corrections. What we're doing is creating environments where people are literally dying and being victimized by sexual assaults on a daily basis," he continued.

Stevenson believes Bentley's proposal isn't about corrections at all, but funding corporate interests through an $800 million bond issue.

"And these $800 million will not go to improving the quality or conditions of confinement. It's not going to go to correctional staff. It's not going to go to workers in the prisons. It's going to go big corporate businesses that build prisons.

It's going to go to lawyers. It's going to go to contractors."

Another thing Stevenson questioned: Why build so many prisons so fast?

"We're all in, which is the other thing I don't quite understand. We're not just building a new prison we're going to build four before we know if we can have any success with it at all," he asked.

He points to the stark contrast made in studies conducted by groups like the National Institute of Corrections and the Center For State Government

He says after a year-long study, none of them recommended building four super max prisons.

What would be better, Stevenson says, is to look at other states that had problems like Alabama, like Angola Prison in Louisiana or Marion prison in Ohio, which he considers a model prison.

"They did it through programs, through volunteer programs, through better classification, through better services and better management."

Those are the same types of recommendations Stevenson's group and others have submitted to Alabama's Governor at a cost, Stevenson says, much less than $800 million.

But he says those recommendations have been ignored and instead there's a plan on the table that will hit Alabama's right in the pocketbook for years and years to come.

"I think nothing has been more misguided than what we are about to do which is spend hundreds of millions of dollars towards new prison without new policies," he said.

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