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Truth in Sentencing: A simple idea faced with complex times

Bill Britt



By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Legislature in 2000 began to task the newly created Alabama Sentencing Commission with analyzing the existing sentencing model and to recommend changes that promote “certainty in sentencing.”

Based on the commission’s recommendations in 2003 the Alabama Legislature passed Alabama Sentencing Reform Act of 2003. This broad sweeping reform—according to the legislation—was to “manage [the] criminal justice system in the manner best able to protect public safety and make the most effective and efficient use of correctional resources.”

According to State Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood), who is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and sits on the Alabama Sentencing Commission, “Public Safety is always the first priority with any sentencing recommendations.”

The legislature mandated the commission to devise a plan for Truth in Sentencing in 2006, the time frame was extended in 2009 and was extended again until 2011.

The commission has worked diligently on the mission given them by lawmakers but Truth in Sentencing, or TIS as it is commonly referred to, is a complex issue with many parts that conflict with Alabama’s current system and with the state’s budgetary woes.

TIS is really a very simple concept, it most basically means that when a convicted individual is given a sentence, that person will serve everyday of that sentence.


TIS is intended to tell the public that a sentence pronounced in court will actually be served—rather than the criminal serving only some small fraction of the sentence, due to the prisoner being released on parole, or the individual having the sentence commuted to probation and serving no time at all.

Under TIS statutes, offenders are required to spend substantial portions of their sentences in prison. The federally recommended portion is 85 percent of the sentence.

TIS is a simple idea with a numerous exceptions and complications.


Many states have forms of TIS but they all vary to some degree and there is no proven model that works effectively across the broad scope of individual state laws.
As part of the legislative mandate the sentencing commission was to chart a set of judicial sentencing guidelines that would, “Abolish parole and goodtime credits, eradicate unwarranted sentencing disparity, make available alternate punishment options, address prison overcrowding, incapacitate dangerous and violent felons, and ensure truth in sentencing while maintaining judicial discretion.”

These are all guidelines that not only seem needed but fit nicely into a public safety priority as well as being a system that is more closely aligned with the traditional concept of crime and punishment.

However, there are grave contradictions within the mandate.

Truth in sentencing means that there will be more prisoners serving longer sentences, therefore, more people will be housed in penitentiaries. TIS is in direct opposition to reducing overcrowding and will greatly exacerbate the already critical mass of prisoners in Alabama correctional facilities.

According to logic it has been pointed out that there are only two ways to control prison population and subsequent overcrowding. One is how many people are being put in the system and the other is how many are being let out.

While TIS is a fair system and one greatly supported  by law-enforcement as well as victims, it is not as easy implemented when faced with constraining budget short falls.

In the past when a state instituted the policy of TIS it also committed large amounts of money to expand the prison infrastructure and  building new facilities.
The deadline for an implementation of TIS has Alabama lawmakers faced with a perplexing set of circumstances.

While some are looking at alternative sentencing for some non-violent offenders as a way to relax overcrowding, the legislative mandate for TIS is scheduled for this upcoming session.

Paul DeMarco is a man who knows the issues and has worked on bringing a solution to this complex problem.

DeMarco said, “There are some discussions of sentencing reform toward alternative sentences but there is a statute, a red flag, I think it was this past year the legislature said [to the Alabama Sentencing Commission], ‘You’ve got to come back with truth in sentencing.’ So, we have got to make sure all of this meshes.”

DeMarco is aware of the balancing act the government faces but is pushing for a fair outcome.

“It is very complex because you have a lot of stakeholders, you’ve got law enforcement, the prosecution, the court system with the judges, the prison system, the budgeting, the Legislature and the Governor,” said DeMarco,  “But the most important aspect that sometimes gets forgotten is the citizens who say, ‘What are the primary roles of government?’ It’s public safety. So, we have got to make sure that nothing gets lost in the mix and that is what I worry about it is not just about dollars and cents. You have got to remember the human phase in this whole picture.”

Some point to the fact that with the prison budget at around 25 percent of the state’s general fund that there is no way to mesh TIS with the need for a reduction in prison population.

“This is a case where the facts of the situation are being greatly ignored,” said an individual who spoke on terms of anonymity. “The government wants Truth in Sentencing, cops and prosecutors want it, the public at large wants it and most of all victims deserve it. But no one is willing to pay for it.” This individual further said, “Try it, go out tomorrow to the people of Alabama and say we want to keep criminals behind bars for their full sentence. Well, the people are going to say, ‘Yes.’ Then you say to them, alright, now, we will need to raise your taxes by five or ten percent. They will say, ‘Hell no.’”

This person with intimate knowledge of the prisons and the state budget says that there is dire need for a rational approach, where there is a mix of alternative measures as well as move toward TIS.

“The budget is going to get better, the economy is going to get better eventually and relieve some of the pressure. This is why we can’t look at this in a vacuum, you have got to look at it over the long term,” said DeMarco.

But our source says, “These are all very good men [DeMarco, Commissioners and Cam Ward] I wish them success in this challenging atmosphere, but, let’s be clear, math is a very stubborn thing, and we need to face the fact that even in good times we can’t have it all.”

Editor’s note, Judge Joseph A. Colquitt  has written a very informative work on Truth in Sentencing, entitled “CAN ALABAMA HANDLE THE TRUTH (IN SENTENCING)?”

Click here to read Judge Colquitt’s essay.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids

Jessa Reid Bolling



Republican Wes Allen, R-Troy, filed a bill to prevent doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty suppressing drugs to people younger than 19 who identify as transgender.

HB303, the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,  would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications or opposite gender hormones to minors. Allen’s legislation would also ban hysterectomy, mastectomy or castration surgeries from being performed on minors.

“I was shocked when I found out doctors in Alabama were prescribing these types of drugs to children,” Allen said in a news release. “This is something you hear about happening in California or New York but it is happening right here in Alabama and it’s time we put a stop to that practice.”

Allen said that children experiencing gender dysphoria are struggling with a psychological disorder and that they need therapeutic treatment from mental health professionals instead of medical intervention that would leave their bodies “permanently mutilated.” 

“These children are suffering from a psychological disorder, just as someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but we treat those patients and try to help them. We should treat these psychological disorders as well.”

In 2018, a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that:

  • “Transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; 
  • Variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; 
  • Gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and
  • If a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child”

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that it was removing “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses and reclassify “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which is now listed under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter. 


In a 2018 interview, Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, said that gender incongruence was removed from the list of mental health disorders because “we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to remove the term “gender identity disorder” from the manual and add the term “gender dysphoria.”

Allen’s bill will be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives in the coming weeks.



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Doug Jones raises $2.4 million in first fundraising period of 2020





U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, raised $2.4 million in the first fundraising period of 2020, according to his reelection campaign, which was $500,000 more than he raised during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Jones has $7.4 million cash at hand, according to his campaign, which released the totals on Thursday. Jones’s latest campaign finance reports weren’t yet posted to the Federal Election Commission website on Thursday. 

“Alabamians across the state are showing their commitment to Doug’s message of One Alabama and his proven track record of standing up for all Alabamians,” said Doug Turner, Senior Advisor for Jones’s campaign, in a statement Thursday. Doug’s work to support working families, fund our HBCUs, modernize our military and expand and protect our health care is resonating with folks throughout Alabama. We are well-positioned to continue to grow our grassroots support and win in November.” 

Jones ended 2019 leading all of his Republican contenders in fundraising, ending the year with $5 million in cash.


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Alabama Democratic Party lawsuit was back in court on Thursday

Josh Moon



The dispute goes on forever and the lawsuit never ends. 

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Thursday delayed a decision on whether he has the standing to settle an internal dispute within the Alabama Democratic Party but indicated that he’s leaning towards ruling that he does. 

Judge Greg Griffin said he would rule soon on the matter, but made no promise that the decision would come before Alabama’s primary elections on March 3. 

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in the seemingly endless fight over control of the ADP and was the next step in a lawsuit brought by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley. Worley and her supporters, which have proven to be a decided minority of the State Democratic Executive Committee, filed the lawsuit late last year after the Democratic National Committee invalidated her re-election as chair and forced the party to change its bylaws and hold new elections. 

Those new elections resulted in Rep. Chris England being elected as party chairman and former Rep. Patricia Todd being elected vice-chair. The new party leadership has the backing of the national party, which pulled funding from ADP because Worley and others refused to rewrite the state party’s bylaws to be more inclusive. 

Worley filed her initial lawsuit prior to the elections in which she was booted out of her position, and Griffin, who was widely criticized for his handling of the case, granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the Reform Caucus of the ADP from meeting. That decision by Griffin was immediately overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, in a rare, late-Friday evening emergency ruling. 

However, the ALSC did not rule on whether Griffin had standing to settle a dispute within the state party. The court left that question up to Griffin, which was why Thursday’s hearing was held. 


The entire thing seems to be an exercise in futility at this point. 

The ADP has moved on, with England certifying candidates and DNC officials clearly recognizing him as the rightful party chair. The DNC has no desire to work with Worley, who was stripped of her credentials for failing to follow directives and bylaws of the party. 

Even if Griffin creates a reason to invalidate England’s election, it doesn’t seem to matter much. The DNC has validated it, and it accepted the ADP’s new bylaws and changes to leadership structure. 


If Worley were to prevail in court, it’s unclear exactly what she would win.


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House passes landfill bill allowing alternative materials as temporary cover

Brandon Moseley



The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to change the statutory definition so that temporary “cover” in landfills can be a material other than “earth.”

House Bill 140 is sponsored by State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton.

The bill allows landfills to use alternative daily covers in place of earth to cover landfills until the next business day. “The EPA has allowed this since 1979,” Baker said. It would save landfills the cost of using earth for daily cover.

“This does not change anything in the operating rules for landfills,” Baker said.

A number of members from both parties expressed concerns about this bill on Tuesday, so the bill was carried over until Thursday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon told reporters, “Sometimes in a debate you can see that the debate is not a filibuster or anti-debate; but rather is an honest effort by members to understand a bill.”

“There was a lot of misinformation out there,” McCutcheon said. The Environmental Services Agency and ADEM were brought in to explain the members and address their concerns.


McCutcheon said that human biosolids is a separate issue and that Rep. Tommy Hanes has introduced legislation dealing with that issue.

Alternative daily cover is often described as cover material other than earthen material placed on the surface of the active face of a municipal solid waste landfill at the end of each operating day. It is utilized to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter, and scavenging. Federal and various state regulations require landfill operators to use such earthen material unless other materials are allowed as alternatives (Mitchell Williams writing on Oct 31 in JDSUPRA).

Soil cover can use valuable air space. Further, it can generate the need to excavate and haul soil to the facility. Alternative daily covers are often advocated to be a more efficient and cost-effective means of cover (Williams).


Baker said that it would be up to ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) in the permit whether to allow a proposed alternative cover or not.

Baker said, “This bill does not change any of the materials used as cover.” “This would keep us from having to use that good earth in landfills when other materials are available. If it becomes a nuisance ADEM can revoke a cover on the permit. Daily cover has to be approved at the discretion of ADEM.”

Baker said that only materials not constituted as a risk to health or are not a hazard can be used.

An environmental attorney shared the list of ADEM alternative covers with the Alabama Political Reporter. The list includes: auto fluff, excavated waste, synthetic tarps, coal ash, petroleum contaminated soil, automotive shredder residue, shredder fluff, wiring insulation, contaminated soils, paper mill (including wood debris, ash shaker grit, clarifier sludge, dregs, lime), 50 percent on-site soil and 50 percent tire chips, spray-on polymer-based materials, reusable geosynthetic cover, automobile shredder fluff, tarps, foundry sand, clay emulsion known as USA Cover Top clay emulsion, non-hazardous contaminated soil, non-hazardous solid waste clarifier sludge, steckle dust all generated from Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa Inc., non-coal ash from Kimberly Clark operations, lagoon sludge from Armstrong World Industries operations, meltshop refractory material from Outokumpu Stainless USA operations, paper mill waste (non-coal ash, slaker grits, dregs, and lime), biodegradable synthetic film, fly ash, residue from wood chipper or paper, slurry with a fire retardant and tactifierl, Posi Shell Cover System, waste Cover, foundry waste, 50 percent soil and 50 percent automobile shredder fluff, incinerator ash, green waste to soil. Sure Clay Emulsion Coating, alternative cover materials (manufactured), compost produced by IREP Montgomery-MRF, LLC, 50 percent saw dust mixed with 50 percent soil, and waste soils considered to be special waste.

McCutcheon said that members did not understand that these were just temporary covers. That was explained to them.

Alabama landfills have used alternative covers for years; but three people sued saying that this was not allowed under Alabama law and that ADEM had exceeded its mandate by permitting alternate covers. On October 11, 2019 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found in favor of the plaintiffs.

HB140, if passed, would address this oversight in the Alabama legal code so that ADEM and the landfills can legally continue to use alternate covers and not have the added expense of quarrying dirt for daily cover.

A Senate version of the same bill received a favorable report last week from the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.

HB140 now goes to the Alabama Senate.


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