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Senate approves budget with prison funding boost

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama prison system would get a $51 million funding increase in October, under a budget approved Tuesday by the Alabama Senate, as the state attempts to comply with a federal court order to improve mental health care to inmates.

Senators voted 26-2 for the proposed general fund budget. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that mental health care in state prisons was “horrendously inadequate” and ordered the state to improve conditions. Gov. Kay Ivey said Tuesday morning that the funding increase, as well as an additional $30 million proposed for this year, was critically important to complying with the order.

“The court has ruled quite clearly that we need more staff and correctional officers. We need better mental health care and mental health professionals. The judge is dead serious about getting this situation corrected,” Ivey said.

The Senate has not yet voted on the additional $30 million for this fiscal year.

Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Maria Morris, who is representing state inmates in the lawsuit over prison health care, said the additional money for this year is a “first step to address needed facility upgrades, staffing increases, and the cost of prisoner healthcare.” But she said it was unlikely to “fully address unconstitutional staff shortages or the provision of care.”

She also said the discussion on the ADOC budget and how taxpayer money is spent should be accompanied by a discussion of sentencing reform.

:Targeted and evidence-based sentencing reform will ensure we are not unnecessarily incarcerating non-violent Alabamians who pose no threat to public safety or Alabamians who need treatment for mental health issues or substance abuse,” Morris added in the emailed statement.

Senators delayed a vote on a proposed three percent pay raise for state employees. While state employees have seen merit raises, they have not had an across-the board increase since 2008.

Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chairman Trip Pittman said there are ongoing negotiations because some senators also want a cost-of-living increase for state retirees. Pittman, R-Montrose, said he had concerns about the affordability of expanding the raise to retirees.

“If you want to do something, you need to give a one-time bonus,” Pittman said.

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