MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama's prisons are full, and the county jails are so crowded that dozens of inmates have been left to sleep on tables and floors.
It's a decades-old situation that is reaching a crisis point in a state with one of the nation's highest incarceration rates and no plans to build more prisons.
State lawyers were headed to court Wednesday to stop a mass transfer of inmates to state prisons that are already full. Earlier this week, two sheriffs armed with court orders rounded up more than 200 state prisoners from county jails and dropped them off at state lockups with little notice.
"This is not a situation where counties, quite frankly, should be doing what they're doing today," Gov. Don Siegelman said. They should look for alternatives and not "simply wash their hands of the situation."
"We're all in this together -- as a state and not as individual counties," Siegelman said.
More than 26,000 people are incarcerated in Alabama, or 571 per 100,000 residents; only five states have higher rates.
Three years ago, the state agreed to accept inmates who had been in county jails more than 30 days after being sentenced to a state prison term.
But backlogs have built up. About 2,000 state prisoners have been in county jails longer than 30 days.
In Jefferson County, a jail built to house 620 inmates holds about 1,000. On Tuesday, 137 men and 28 women from the jail were put in handcuffs and leg irons, handed sack lunches and loaded onto buses and vans for the transfer to a state prison.
"They're somebody else's problem now," Sheriff Jim Woodward told The Birmingham News.
In Morgan County, a federal judge last month ordered 104 state inmates moved from the jail, where he said conditions were so cramped it resembled a "slave ship." The job was completed Monday.
In Houston County, where the 200-bed jail had 300 prisoners, a judge had threatened to leave state inmates handcuffed to a prison fence if the state didn't take them. The state Supreme Court blocked the transfer until Monday, when the stay was lifted, and the sheriff promptly sent the inmates to a state lockup.
Even as the situation worsens, the biggest corrections issue at the Legislature is the governor's push to make violent criminals serve 85 percent of their sentences. If enacted, it would result in even more stress on the prison system, critics say.
Corrections experts and prison officials say the solution includes more community corrections programs, drug courts and parole for inmates with convictions for nonviolent offenses. But those are a tough sell in a political environment that favors jail time for even nonviolent crimes.
County jails, meanwhile, have turned to building annexes or double-bunking inmates.
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