Prison chief requests $464 million for 2012
The head of the state prison system is asking state lawmakers for $464 million to operate the overcrowded system in 2012.
Kim Thomas, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, outlined the obstacles for the system, including aging facilities that are well over capacity with inmates that are guaranteed health care.
Thomas said the department, which is operating with a budget of $436 million this year, will not have $39.1 million in federal funds in the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The Legislature convenes March 1, when lawmakers begin debating the budgets for 2012.
Thomas said the department is asking for an increase of $28.2 million, which will include $17.5 million more for salaries and benefits; $4.4 million more for inmate health care; $300,000 more to lease beds from counties to house inmates; $1.4 million more for inmate food and clothing; $700,000 more for utilities; and $2.2 million for vehicle replacement.
Thomas said the department generates $45.4 million of that money itself from work release, inmate labor for counties and other state agencies, proceeds from canteens, telephone contract, oil and gas proceeds, and license plates.
Thomas, who was previously the general counsel for the department, said he has been on the job for 23 days and was looking at possible places to cut.
Most Alabama officials agree the corrections department operates on a barebones budget.
Thomas said the correctional officers are also paid less than other law enforcement officers. Department officials have pushed for years for a 10 percent pay increase for officers. Thomas said they have been fortunate with the downturn in the economy to retain employees and recruit more employees.
Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Senate General Fund committee, said corrections and Medicaid are asking for more than $400 million in new funding for 2012 while the Legislative Fiscal Office is expecting a $555 million shortfall in that budget.
Orr, R-Decatur, said balancing the budget will be a "very onerous task."
Corrections and Medicaid are requesting a total of $1.1 billion while the entire General Fund this year has a budget of $1.6 billion and that is expected to be smaller in 2012 because there is no influx of money from a federal stimulus or similar plan.
Other agencies in the General Fund include public safety, public health and senior services.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen