- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

July 7

Anniston (Alabama) Star on packed prisons:

In a sense, Alabama’s prison problem mirrors the United States’: It wasn’t created overnight, and it can’t be repaired quickly.

Our prisons are among the nation’s most overcrowded and under-funded. Our women’s prison, in Julia Tutwiler in Wetumpka, has been investigated for a harrowing list of sexual-misconduct claims against staff members. And only this year, with the threat of federal intervention into our prison system, did the state Legislature finally act with real urgency regarding reform.

Any way you look at it, Alabama’s prisons are a mess.

America’s prison problem is a global phenomena. U.S. prisons hold nearly 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. So frequent has that claim been made by Democratic and Republican politicians that The Washington Post this week decided to fact-check it.

Result: It’s true. Grab a mathematician and choose a formula; it doesn’t matter. Whether you look at total prison population, prison population rates per 100,000 people, or wonkish comparisons of U.S. rates with those from Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics data (member countries and other major economies, The Post explained), the United States is a global incarceration leader.

A sole example: the U.S. rate of 478 prisoners per 100,000 people was three and a half times the average European rate.

In recent decades, politicians and judges got tough on crime and filled America’s prisons, Alabama’s included. Crime rates, once high, have plummeted. Alternative-sentencing guidelines for first-time, non-sexual offenders are slowly siphoning off America’s stream of inmates.

It’s unfortunate that Alabama’s prison reform may prove more prickly. Reform takes money, and the state’s in short supply. Lawmakers must stand behind promises to change how the state imprisons those found guilty.




July 8

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on veterans:

The U.S. government has fallen shamefully short of honoring its commitment to veterans in recent years. One reform measure after another has failed to resolve chronic problems with health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Capitol Hill, a new attempt is in the works - this time focusing on workforce shortages and leadership vacuums.

The Delivering Opportunities for Care and Services (DOCS) for Veterans Act seeks, among other things, to bolster recruitment efforts through salary increases and tuition loan assistance. It also would expand partnerships with existing agencies to establish more mental health residency programs, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

The bill, co-sponsored by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, arrives amid continuing signs of trouble at the VA, including a report more veterans are waiting more than a month for medical care despite repeated attempts to end those delays.

The number of veterans who spend more than a month on waiting lists has jumped 50 percent in the past year, according to an investigation by The New York Times. The VA expanded its capacity during that time but underestimated ongoing surges in demand for services. Last year, the VA handled 2.7 million more appointments than in any previous year and authorized 900,000 veterans to see outside physicians, The Times reported.

In addition to focusing on recruitment of doctors, mental health counselors and physician assistants, the DOCS for Veterans Act seeks to resolve problems with long-running vacancies in leadership positions at the VA, including in Missouri.

McCaskill and Missouri’s other senator, Republican Roy Blunt, recently asked VA Secretary Robert McDonald to explain the troubles finding a permanent director for the St. Louis region, which serves about 46,000 veterans a year. Since 2013, the region has had seven acting directors.

McDonald’s response speaks volumes about the depth of problems at the VA. On two of six attempts to fill the vacancy, there were no qualified applicants, and on other occasions top candidates chose to take jobs elsewhere. The VA is close to naming yet another new director, McDonald wrote back to the senators.

Although doctors and nurses are the top priorities, it’s essential that medical centers have stable leadership to oversee operations and troubleshoot problems.

The proposed legislation calls for assessing and addressing disparities in leadership pay between the VA and the private sector and strengthening policies designed to ensure a line of succession is in place when vacancies occur.

The bill has the backing of numerous veterans groups, including the American Legion, the American Mental Health Counselors Association and AMVETS. Mental health groups are pleased with the plans for additional services to address high suicide rates among veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This reform effort deserves support from Congress and the Obama administration - as well as the determination to see an end to recurring, intolerable problems at the VA.

It’s not enough for America to thank veterans for their service with words. Our men and women in uniform need to be provided the services they were promised - swiftly and efficiently.




July 8

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on homeschooled students participating in public school sports:

Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature passed a measure that would allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports, an initiative that had long drawn opposition from the state High School Athletic Association.

The thin margin for passage was indicative of the reluctance of some to open the door, likely because of the knotty challenge of adapting the rules to ensure fair treatment of both public school and homeschooled students.

The initiative, called the Tim Tebow Bill after the collegiate standout who, as a homeschooled student, was allowed to play football on a public high school team.

This week, the Alabama High School Athletic Association reversed itself and announced its willingness to get involved in the process of drafting the new rules.

That’s an outstanding move. Who knows better what issues might arise with regard to standardizing the requirements of attendance and academic performance for all players?

Lawmakers expressed relief at the AHSAA’s decision to join the team, putting their trust in the organization to draft thorough and fair rules.

We applaud the organization’s spirit of sportsmanship, and wish all the players, regardless of background, the best in their sports endeavors.



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