When Fob James was sworn in as Governor of Alabama in 1979, he inherited a prison system from his predecessor, Gov. George Wallace, that was in shambles.
Then-U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson had placed Alabama's prison system in a receivership years earlier for Eighth Amendment violations, and Wallace, who was in the middle of a presidential run, used the move by the federal courts as fodder for his presidential run instead of focusing on a fix for the problem.
When James took over in 1979, then-U.S. District Judge Robert Varner, the federal judge who inherited the case from Johnson, named James the receiver of the system. By 1982, Alabama had clawed its way out of its prison troubles.
Should Fob James' son Tim James be elected governor in November, he would be inheriting a situation that is not quite as dire as what his father faced. However, it would still be one under threat from the Biden Justice Department and the federal judiciary.
During an interview with Mobile radio's "The Jeff Poor Show" on Friday, James offered his thoughts on what it would take for Alabama to fix the chronic problems plaguing the state's prisons.
"It's hard to know exactly the details of the prison deal because you can't get your hands on it," James said. "They were so closed-mouthed about the process. It's better than it was, from what I understand. The bottom line on prisons is this: You do have to build prisons from time to time, unfortunately. The long-term fix is to reduce recidivism, number one. Sixty-five percent of prison inmates wind up right back in prison. So, if you can bring the recidivism down from 65% to 45%, that is a tremendous savings in money because it costs about $25,000 to incarcerate an individual in our prisons.
"How do you do that? Outreach, Christian outreach programs work. [Prison Fellowship Ministries founder] Chuck Colson proved it. I want a massive faith-based outreach program in all of our prisons in the years ahead. And we can reduce recidivism. That's number one."
James said improving the early stages of K-12 education was also part of a foundation for a system that lent itself to reducing recidivism.
"Number two, education," James said. "Third-graders that are scoring in their reading and math at the third-grade level when they leave the third grade do not go to prison. There is a direct correlation between third-grade scores and prison. We have to improve our education in the foundation years -- K, 1, 2, 3. And you're going to slow the tide of people winding up in jail. And then, we have to decrease recidivism with outreach programs. That's how it starts. There is no easy fix.
"If they're running our prison system as efficiently as they're running our Department of Transportation, I can assure you that it is sloppy as a bunch of pigs running around in a mud wallow. And a little management would probably go a long way on the financial end."
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