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Prison Reform Bill Passes Senate

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Sen. Cam Ward’s (R-Alabaster) bill, SB67, was debated on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, receiving multiple amendments from both sides of the aisle. Out of 14 amendments only one failed.

The bill passed by a vote of 31-2 even though it has not received funding in the projected 2016 General Fund Budget. It was immediately tabled.

Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Chairman of the Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, successfully attached an amendment that blocks implementation of the bill, should the funding not become available.

Ward estimates that the cost of implementation $23-25 million over next 5 years and $34 million if it includes capacity increases.

The bill is the result of recommendations of the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons. The current estimate is that the prisons are at over 195 percent capacity at present.

Under current law, Alabama has three classifications for felonies: Class A, Class B and Class C.

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One of the changes to the multi-faceted bill is to create Class D felonies. Punishment for conviction would be not more than 5 years or not less than 1 year and 1 day. However, anyone who has been previously convicted of two or more Class A or Class B felonies must be punished as a Class C felony. Fine for a Class D felony is set at $7,500.

Class D felony:
—Theft of property in the third degree
—Theft of a credit card regardless of its value
—Theft of lost property valued between $500-$1,499
—Theft of lost property
—Receiving stolen valued between property $500-$1,499
—Forgery in the third degree
—Possession of a forged instrument

Some of many other changes that the bill addresses:
—Limits Class C or D felony split sentences to no more than two years of confinement and no more than three years of probation
—Invokes alternatives to prison sentences for lower offenses to community corrections programs
—Board of Pardons and Paroles would implement training of supervising officers for better educated judgement as to whether to release a prisoner
—Expands current automated victim notification system should a prisoner be released or on medical furlough
—Removes right to refuse providing a DNA sample
—Creates mandatory post-release supervision times based on sentence length
—Raises minimum required value amounts set for definitions of theft
—Possession of less than a pound of marijuana for personal use will be a Class D felony, with exceptions

“We need to save our prison space for the most violent and dangerous offenders until the public safety priority is met. We are prioritizing intensive community supervision for the first time regarding first time offenders. This has worked in so many other states. If North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia can do this, why can’t we?” said Ward.

Susan Britt
Written By

DIG DEEPER