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November 11, 2005 - Ricky Stokes News (AL)

Prison Reform Expected To Be Top Priority Of Legislature

Bill Allowing Church Based Probation For Drug Offenders Among Recommendations

by Mark Randall

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

After three years of speaking out about the need to find alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, Ken Glasgow thinks the state may finally be ready to listen.

Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society, a religious-based non profit group that works with convicts, said he is confident state legislators will pass a measure in the 2006 session which will allow judges the freedom to put drug offenders and other non violent criminals into community based probation programs instead of prison.

A state task force studying prison overcrowding is recommending a series of bills which focus on alternatives to incarceration including more community corrections, transition centers, better drug treatment programs, and church sponsored faith-based probation.

Gov. Bob Riley wants the legislature to make prison reform a top priority when it returns for its regular legislative session Jan. 10.

"What we're trying to do is help with the prison population and also the funds that are being depleted out of the taxpayers hands into prisons," Glasgow said.

Glasgow is also co-director of the New Bottom Line campaign, a coalition that supports prison reform.

The New Bottom Line Campaign recently partnered with the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, National Organization of Drug Policy Alliance, Alabama Sentencing Commission, and the Alabama Prison Crowding Task Force and is backing proposed legislation that would allow voluntary sentencing standards for 26 felonies and measures to divert drug offenders out of prisons and in to community programs.

Alabama's prison population is presently at twice its design capacity but has led the nation in reducing its prison population using measures like accelerated parole for nonviolent offenders.

Glasgow said 31 percent of prison overcrowding in Alabama is due to drug offenders.

"Some of these drug offenders are first timers or just in for possession of drugs," Glasgow said.

He said between 1999 and 2004, prison commitments for drug possession and DUI in Alabama shot up by 28 percent and 17 percent.

Sentences for other offenses actually fell by 14 percent, he said.

"While other crimes were falling, drugs went up," Glasgow said.

Glasgow said it would be cheaper for Alabama to fund drug treatment programs rather than send people to prison.

The state is spending nearly $30,000 a year per inmate. It only costs $11,000 per inmate for drug treatment programs, he said.

Glasgow said he would like to see more churches get involved in sponsoring drug offenders, especially black churches.

African Americans only make up 25 percent of the state's population but account for 60 percent of its prison population.

"One of the things we have been working on the past three years is to get judges and churches involved in what we call probation sponsorship programs," Glasgow said.

The idea is already gaining momentum in Houston County.

Presiding Circuit Judge Lawson Little recently met with church leaders about setting up such a program. The Columbia Baptist Association and Greater Beulah Baptist Church have agreed to participate.

Glasgow said he believes the proposed reform measures which would allow that type of program will pass the legislature this time.

The Senate voted down voluntary sentencing standards twice but Glasgow said he believes everyone is on the same page this time.

"I'm very encouraged," Glasgow said. "I've been talking about this for three years and nobody was listening. Now everybody is on board. That's a good thing."

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