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Alabama Legislature Passes Historic Criminal Justice Reform

By Sen. Cam Ward

This week the Alabama Legislature passed a historic overhaul of our state corrections system.  As former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said regarding this bill, “This is the type of criminal justice reform that has been proven to lower recidivism rates, keep our citizens safer, allow low-level offenders to contribute back into society by lowering penalties for minor non-violent crimes, and save taxpayers millions in incarceration costs. It’s time to not only get tougher on crime, but to get smarter.”

Keeping in mind that public safety should always come first, the comprehensive reforms outlined in SB67 will strengthen Alabama’s corrections system by establishing a set of evidence-based and performance-based approaches to supervision, diverting individuals convicted of low-level crimes away from prison and mandating supervision for anyone leaving prison. These are proven strategies that will aim to reduce prison populations in Alabama’s chronically overcrowded state facilities by reducing recidivism.

By enacting these reforms, Alabama will be ready to maximize prison space to address serious offenses, while limiting the use of these expensive resources for technical violation cases.

The law takes criminal history into consideration: The individuals who could be diverted away from prison to greater supervision and treatment would primarily be early offenders with little criminal history.

Individuals with long track records would not be diverted like early offenders. In order to deter recidivism, supervision officers will use immediate short jail punishments when individuals are noncompliant, showing them that misbehaving will not be tolerated.

This practice is proven to reduce noncompliance over time and improve the behavior of people being supervised.

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Crucially, this bill enacts comprehensive changes without compromising public safety or undermining existing sentences. No one who is in prison right now will be released early from his or her sentence simply as a result of this bill. The proposal charts a path for Alabama’s long-term stewardship of its correctional system, finding ways to achieve significant and sustainable reductions in overcrowding while retaining full state control of its own operations.

Criminal Justice reform is a topic being debated all across the country. I hope that Alabama can be a leader in this effort because it is a conservative approach that leads to lower crime and less tax dollars in the long run.


Cam Ward
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