Tri-City Ledger -

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By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Inmate releases irk the sheriff

Sheriff Jackson says state is dumping its prison, mental health problems on the county


February 2, 2023


The mass release of 369 prison inmates Tuesday, who were being housed in Alabama state prisons, hit one snag but the releases continue which has police chiefs and sheriffs upset and saying the state is simply trying to solve its problems by piling more problems on counties and municipalities.

Under a 2001 law passed by the Alabama Legislature to allow early releases the gates were set to be open Tuesday for the 369 selected. People serving time for crimes from burglary, theft and drug possession were on the list to those jailed for robbery and murder.

Reports note only 80 were released Tuesday after Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshal filed suit saying the Department of Corrections and the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles had not notified victims or victims' families of the releases. The releases, which include nine from Escambia County, were set to resume Wednesday once victims were officially notified.

Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson said while he understands the state is under a federal court order to decrease the prison population, it's putting the burden back on the counties.

"These people have been sentenced by a judge for a certain amount of time and the state is now going back and changing the laws and letting these people out without serving the time the judge gave them."

Jackson said the inmates will be fitted with ankle monitors and simply turned loose with no plan in place.

It will now be up to the local probation and parole officers to monitor those recently released. Escambia County currently has more than 400 people on probation and parole that are being monitored by four officers.

The list of inmates sentenced in Escambia County Circuit Court are: Joshua B. Ellis, convicted of burglary III; Eurecka Finklea, convicted of assault; Vincent Lambeth, convicted of possession of obscenity of a person under 17; Thomas Darrelle McNeal, convicted of burglary II; Daniel Shawn Mealer, convicted of theft of property; Kartell Jermain Spears, convicted of 'other Class B felony', marijuana, assault and escape; Lynn Erica White, convicted of possession of a controlled substance and assault; and Tiffany Renee Wiggins, convicted of possession of a controlled substance and assault.

"Most of these sentences come with probation," Sheriff Jackson said. "When they violate their probation they come back to the county jail. Why are we going to house a state inmate in a county jail when they should go straight back to prison?"

"We're not," Jackson said. "I'm not going to accept them in my jail."

Jackson said he won't accept those inmates at the county jail if they violate the conditions of their release unless that inmates commits another crime. He said he won't accept them if they simply violate the terms of their probation on such issues like an ankle monitor determining they didn't do what they were supposed to do.

"I refuse to let the state inmate problem fill up my county jail when it's their problem," Jackson said. "The state wants to turn the burden back on the county taxpayers and that's not right. The state gives us $2.25 per day to feed their inmates. That doesn't cover one meal."

Sheriff Jackson noted the federal government pays the county $45 per day to house federal inmates in the county jail.

Sheriff Jackson said the state continues to push its problems, including the lack of support for mental health, back to the counties.

"Our local probation and parole officers go beyond the call of duty to keep people in line," Jackson said. "But the state keeps dumping more and more people on them with no resources to handle the load. That's wrong."

"The counties are getting stuck doing the state's job," Jackson said. "I've got a jail problem but nobody wants to help us."

Jackson said most of the inmates that end up in prison have long criminal histories and have been given multiple chances to stay out of prison through probation.

"It's 10 times easier to get out of prison than it is to get in," Jackson said.


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