By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–The Sentencing Reform Bill passed on the Senate Floor on Thursday with a vote of 28-1. Co-Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored a bill also known as SB386, This bill will put forward guidelines for non-violent offenders, reduce prison population and put the state on a path to Truth in Sentencing.
“Alabama has the most overcrowded prison system in the United States. This bill will allow us to alleviate some of that,” Ward said.
Ward makes the point that with Alabama’s prison population hovering at 193 percent of capacity that measures were needed to not only address sentencing but the growing threat of takeover by the federal government. According to Federal statute once a correction system reaching a 200 percent capacity the feds takeover and mandate the prison system.
“About 65 percent of the states inmates are non-violent offenders, and we don’t want a situation where the federal courts take over and begin releasing inmates,” Ward said. “This is a creative solution to that problem.”
He also said that this bill will allow judges to sentence non-violent offenders to community corrections, mental health court and drug court. This will slow the prison population growth allowing violent offenders to remain in prison longer.
“This was done in Virginia and it reduced the prison overcrowding while at the same time saw no increase in crime,” said Ward.
“The Sentencing Commission will set guidelines, guidelines will be sent to legislature. Legislators will have a year to reject them or do nothing. If they do nothing those sentencing guidelines will go into effect automatically,” said Ward. This takes the burden off legislators and places it on the Sentencing Commission.
This will make it possible to bring back the Truth in Sentencing discussions. With a smaller prison population, judges will have more leeway to punish those with more heinous crimes to longer sentences that they must serve in full.
The bill now goes to the House where Rep. Allen Farley (R-McCalla) will carry the bill. It is expected to be a high priority for the House leadership.