Prison Reform Bill Reviewed By Senate Judiciary Committee
A prison reform bill was introduced in the Alabama Senate late last month. A large portion of the proposed legislation is aimed at diverting offenders charged with drug offenses and low level property crimes away from prison and into supervised probation programs and community corrections. The Alabama prison system is in crisis due to severe overcrowding, and the threat of a federal takeover of the prison system is real. The bill was introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Cam Ward. Recognizing the looming threat of a federal takeover and the already present overcrowding conditions prompted Ward to comment:
“I think there is an awareness that you’ve got to do something before the whole system collapses,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster
The bill is the product of the Legislature’s Prison Reform Task Force, which included leaders in the criminal justice system, local and state judges, district attorneys, and victims rights groups. Unfortunately, the criminal defense bar in Alabama was sorely unrepresented among the members of the Task Force. My review of the membership list only noted one attorney who practices criminal defense law in Alabama. Bill Clark was appointed to the Task Force by the Alabama State Bar Association. Mr. Clark is a highly respected Birmingham, Alabama attorney whose practice includes criminal defense. By and large, the remaining members of the Task Force come from the prosecution, judicial, or corrections side of the equation.
The bill would reduce penalties for some less serious criminal offenses. It also calls for more supervision of inmates on parole and for those who have finished their prison terms. The proposed law contemplates hiring 100 additional parole officers, and increased spending on community corrections programs.
One notable feature of the proposed law is the creation of a new class of felony offenses: Class D Felonies. Alabama criminal code presently contains three classes of felony offenses: Class A, Class B, and Class C. A Class C felony is presently the least serious of the felony offenses in Alabama, but still carries the potential sentence of one year and one day to 10 years of imprisonment.
The new class D classification would include a number of less serious offenses for which the defendant would be less likely to receive a prison term, and more likely to be sentenced to a community corrections type program. The new Class D felony would carry a potential sentence of up to 5 years, and up to $7,500.00 in fines. also, a Class D felony would not count in relation to the Alabama Habitual Offender Act. Crimes that are potentially shifted to the new classification may include simple drug possession, receiving stolen property crimes, and credit card fraud crimes.
We are currently reviewing the proposed law to determine its effect on current Alabama criminal law and criminal defense issues. The bill is lengthy, over 120 pages, and contains numerous amendments and additions to the current Alabama Criminal Code. We will continue to report out findings and comments in the future.
SB67-int – COMPLETE COPY OF BILL