Alabama's prison system faces the prospect of a federal takeover due to the overcrowded conditions at most of the state's facilities.
"The situation is dire," said Sen. Cam Ward, Chairman of the Joint Prison Oversight Committee in the Alabama Legislature.
Ward says the state legislature must take steps soon to avert a potential crisis for the state's financial coffers.
Prisons in Alabama are the most overcrowded and understaffed in the country.
With more than 26,600 inmates, prisons hold more than 193 percent of their capacity. There are only 13,300 beds in state-run facilities.
"You're really beginning to see the problem have its impact on inmate-on-inmate violence but also the safety of our security guards," Ward said. "Our correctional officers in these facilities are risking their lives because of the overcrowding and understaffing that we have."
Ward and members of the Prison Oversight Committee have all but ruled out the notion of building more prisons to house additional inmates.
"You can't build your way out of this. It'll costs hundreds of millions of dollars," Ward added.
The state could face a lawsuit that challenges the way prisons are managed. California faced a similar situation that led to the federal government essentially calling the shots in the state's prisons.
But in Alabama, there is hardly an appetite to deal with making the lives of prisoners, convicted rapists, murderers and bank robbers. Improving the food or bunkbeds at prisons aren't the kinds of campaign promises that draw voters to the polls in an election year. Ward understands that.
"No one's ever gone out and campaigned on the idea of 'elect me I'm going to fix the prisons but at the same time, for the financial well-being of our state, if we don't do something now, in five or six years we're going to pass the buck off to somebody else who's going to pay for it with federal court intervention," Ward said.
Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.
1720 Valley View Drive