By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The director of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles asked lawmakers Thursday for an $11 million increase from the state’s General Fund in 2021, but was met with questions about how previous funding allocations have been spent, a recent decline in parole rates and his desire to close a parolee job-training facility.
From the beginning of his budget presentation, Charlie Graddick said he had no role in deciding who is granted for parole and his primary focus was fixing and agency that he saw as “broken in just about everything.”
“Where we are today should have been taken care of two or three years ago so we’re just trying to catch up,” Graddick said.
Graddick was appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to oversee the department last year when new legislation gave her the ability to do so. Graddick, a former Alabama attorney general, has said early release is not a prisoner’s right.
The $11 million increase from this year’s $48 million General Fund allocation would go toward hiring 28 new probation officers. Graddick also said there was about $25 million from previous years that has continued to be rolled over that the department planned on using to make the new hires as well.
These rollover funds caused some lawmakers to question whether the $11 million increase is needed.
“They’ve been carrying over those funds for years now and It’s been allocated to them to make these hires, and I know it’s difficult to hire parole officers just like it’s difficult for the Department of Corrections to hire security guards. There aren’t folks lining up for that job, but on the other hand we need to spend that money first,” said Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.
“We’ll be taking a strong look at that request,” Clouse told ADN after the meeting.
Lawmakers were also very critical about Graddick’s effort to end the agency’s involvement at LifeTech training center in Thomasville. It teaches job skills, including construction and maintenance, to recently paroled individuals and courses take several weeks. Graddick said the residential facility should be under the Department of Corrections’ control.
“We’re not in the custodial business, we don’t lock people up and maintain them and house them and feed them and that’s what we’re doing in LifeTech and we don’t have authority to do that frankly,” Graddick said.
Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, noted that since pardons and parole controls LifeTech’s funding then they should be taking responsibility for it.
“If you’re the one that’s in charge of that then you should take control of that,” Warren said. “You need to step up to the plate on that.”
The Legislature allocated $2 million for LifeTech in the 2020 education budget. In this year’s General Fund budget, lawmakers added $1 million for security upgrades, including a fence around the educational facility. Pardons and Paroles’ average annual cost for LifeTech in recent years is about $5.2 million.
LifeTech has provided skills training to more than 6,300 offenders since 2006 and has a recidivism rate of 13%, less than half of the statewide recidivism rate.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday was asked if he thinks ADOC should take control of LifeTech. He said he hadn’t given the idea much thought.
“I don’t have a position on LifeTech, except I guess I’m somewhat flattered that (Graddick) wants to give something to me and thinks we could do it well, but again my plate is full and I’m not looking for work,” Dunn said. “That’s a discussion we can have.”
Alabama’s prisons are crowded and understaffed. During Dunn’s budget presentation, he asked for a $42 million increase that would mostly go toward staffing and inmate health care. At about $517 million this year, corrections is the second-largest General Fund budget expense, behind Medicaid.
Dunn hopes to recruit a total of 700 new security staff members, which would put the department on track to obtaining the federally mandated 2,200 additional correctional officers by 2022.
“I’m optimistic of it because we’re ahead of the pace for 2020,” Dunn said. “If we continue on the trajectory that we’re on then I’m very optimistic.”
Dunn said ADOC had a net gain of 255 security staff last year and more than 440 trainees are in the pipeline to work in state prisons. Staffing is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit against ADOC.
Dunn said ADOC wants to use security staff body-cameras as a way to reduce violence in the prisons.
“We’re going to implement these body cameras with our supervisors and get a better sense of what’s going on and evaluate inmate on officer interaction and inmate on inmate interactions to help us come up with better strategies to reduce violence,” Dunn told lawmakers.
Graddick was also critical of ADOC’s rehabilitation efforts and said the department doesn’t do enough to give inmates their best chance at parole.
Dunn said after the meeting that he does think the department is doing enough.
“Keep in mind that all of these programs are voluntary,” he said. “We are looking to ways to incentivize inmates to be more involved in these programs,” Dunn told reporters. “But, to my knowledge, we haven’t changed any of our operating procedures.”
The legislative session begins Feb. 4.