Choctaw County Sheriff Scott Lolley submitted a letter of resignation to the Alabama Sentencing Commission on Jan. 7 citing his frustration over issues he says the commission board could resolve.
Specifically, Sheriff Lolley is “concerned and frustrated” that, “The vast majority of drug cases are being placed on probation, sentenced to drug courts, or the sentences are suspended for drug rehabilitation.”
Lolley, in his resignation letter addressed to Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association Bobby Timmons, says the citizens of Choctaw County are, “being victimized and re-victimized constantly by the same drug suspects.”
He complained that, “It’s virtually impossible to sentence someone on drug charges to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” For this Lolley blames, at least in part, the sentencing guidelines that have reduced the state correctional facilities’ in-house population while leaving the burden of rearresting and housing repeat offenders to the county sheriff.
The Alabama Sentencing Commission Mission Statement reads, “The Alabama Sentencing Commission shall work to establish and maintain an effective, fair, and efficient sentencing system for Alabama that enhances public safety, provides truth-in-sentencing, avoids unwarranted disparity, retains meaningful judicial discretion, recognizes the most efficient and effective use of correctional resources, and provides a meaningful array of sentencing options.”
Sentencing reforms have in part led to a reduction in the overall prison population. According to the latest report on file issued by ADOC in Sept. 2018, its in-house population was 20,087 inmates. ALDOC defines in-house population as, “an inmate where ADOC maintains custody of an inmate to a period of incarceration. ADOC In-House Population inmates are housed within correctional facilities owned and operated by ADOC; this includes transient inmates between correctional facilities.”
One of the goals of the sentencing commission, ADOC, as well as the state Legislature, is to reduce prison overcrowding.
Alabama’s prisons rank as some of the worst in the nation, and anyone who has toured even the best facilities will find they are old, dilapidated and nearly uninhabitable.
Legislation enacted by the Republican supermajority has dramatically reduced prison overcrowding from 198 percent capacity in 2013, to 153 percent in 2018, according to ADOC.
September ADOC statistics show the total number of in-house beds is 22,309, and it also shows a total in-house population of 20,087, which means 2,222 beds are unoccupied.
The same September ADOC report says ADOC’s in-house designed capacity is 13,318. Footnote two in the report says the 13,318 capacity is based on “Original architecural (sic) design plus renovations.”
However, ADOC personnel and those who have worked at ADOC say this statement is misleading because In-House Designed capacity means inmate capacity according to the facility’s original design and does not take into consideration additional building or other space added to existing structures in subsequent years.
As a result of Legislative intervention, the number of non-violent offenders in state prisons has been reduced dramatically, going from a prison population of 35 percent non-violent to now under 14 percent. An unintended consequence of not locking up non-violent offenders is a very violent population inside the prisons, making it more dangerous for correctional officers.
Lolley’s dilemma illustrates that for some counties these reforms are a double-edged sword.
“Law enforcement continues to arrest the problem offenders, but the judicial system continues to place them in alternative sentencing,” writes Lolley. “This system simply does not work.”
He also says, “A chronic drug offender could be arrested anywhere from 2-15 times and never be sent to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” He also claims that sentenced state inmates are being held in the county jail for months before the Alabama Department of Corrections will accept them and that “inmates incarcerated at the Alabama Department of Corrections are receiving parole hearings and release at a ridiculous rate.”
In Nov. 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey floated the idea of leasing built-to-order prisons to reduce overcrowding and to ensure the state prisons can house offenders. There is growing support for Ivey to utilize that option rather than trying to corral lawmakers into supporting a billion dollar bond to build three mega-prisons. Ivey made solving the state’s prison problems a prominent part of her inaugural address on Monday.
Lolley was first elected Choctaw County Sheriff in 2014; he was reelected in 2018 to a second term.