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By: Josiah Robinson

The Alabama Department of Corrections is moving inmates from vacant county facilities to overcrowded prisons in order to make the case for new state prisons, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.

Several county sheriffs revealed this affair while voicing their concerns in a meeting at the State House on Wednesday. They have long-term contracts with the state DOC for housing prisoners, but in the summer of 2016, DOC officers began removing prisoners.

This circumstance conveniently occurs around the time an $800 million plan to build 4 new state prisons was being mulled over in the legislature. Overcrowding was the driving factor in that decision. Despite attainable libertarian solutions, the problem persists. It now seems that problem may have been manipulated, though.

Those sheriffs – from Clarke, Clay, Sumter, Macon, and Lowndes counties – reported having more than 600 empty beds. The number of empty beds in other counties is unknown, but this fact contradicts the DOC narrative that state prisons are somewhere around 200 percent capacity.

Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris was clear and concise.

“They didn’t give us a choice,” he said. “They came in there and took up the prisoners we’d been housing for years – had a contract to house. They even took the guys we were housing for free. I asked them what they were doing and they said they needed our prisoners, and that was that.”

The other sheriffs echoed this sentiment, including Sumter County Sheriff Brian Harris.

“We have a pretty new facility and a lot of open beds,” the sheriff said. He continued, saying that his county is still paying for this jail that was built in 2003.

The meeting between sheriffs and lawmakers was led by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, who has prison construction plan of his own. Rep. Morrow’s plan seeks input and feedback from sheriffs.

He emphasized the role of sheriffs in the decision, saying “I think if we listen to these sheriffs and are smart about this, we could solve all of our prison problems and save a bunch of money doing it.”

In the meeting, Rep. Morrow shared a letter from a Pardons and Paroles official regarding a new electronic monitoring system. Morrow plans on using that system in conjunction with the $50 million bond for a private prison and the empty beds in the sheriffs’ prisons to alleviate the overcrowding issue. By his estimates, these measures could reduce the number of inmates to 14,000 by 2020.

Other lawmakers, including Reps. Ed Henry, Arnold Mooney, and Mike Holmes were baffled by the DOC’s transfer of inmates from facilities with vacancy to those with overcrowding problems.

“I don’t know why no one knows about this,” Rep. Henry commented. “Y’all really need to get to the media and let them know, because everyone here is being sold a different story.”