Alabama Prisons Big Beneficiary of Education Stimulus Money

MOBILE, Ala. – The biggest recipient of Alabama’s federal stimulus dollars for education isn’t a school system or college. It’s the state prison system.

An analysis by the Press-Register in Mobile revealed that the state Department of Corrections has received $118 million of Alabama’s $1.1 billion in federal stimulus funds for education since 2009. Officials said the money covered health care costs for 26,000 inmates and salaries and benefits for about 4,200 corrections officers and other employees for 31/2 months.

The stimulus program allows governors to spend up to 18 percent of the funding in areas other than education, such as public safety. The Department of Corrections has received 11 percent and is the only non-school recipient.

Mobile County schools came in second at $76.7 million. Auburn University was third at $51.8 million; the University of Alabama at Birmingham, fourth, at $49.8 million; and Montgomery County schools, fifth, at $47 million.

The newspaper said Alabama spent about $4,500 in education stimulus dollars per prisoner, about four times the amount per student in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Steve Brown, associate corrections commissioner, said the injection of federal stimulus dollars was vital, and the financially strapped prisons might have been forced to release inmates without it.

“We would’ve had to release 40 percent of our inmates. That’s not a viable option,” he said.

Brown said federal auditors examined the spending by the Department of Corrections and gave it their approval.

Mobile County Superintendent of Education Roy Nichols said he was surprised that prisons finished No. 1, but he understands the reasoning.

“The governor wouldn’t have looked good if he had let prisoners out,” he said.

Others say the $118 million could have helped schools focus on students likely to drop out and cause trouble.

“If we could’ve had the $118 million, we could’ve given the prisons less business,” Baldwin County Superintendent Alan Lee told the Press-Register.