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Crime

Alabama House Judiciary Chairman Jim Hill says a “multi-prong” approach needed on prisons

Bill Britt

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There is a general belief among lawmakers that Gov. Kay Ivey will call a Special Legislative Session sometime in the fall to address the state’s failed prisons.

The real need, as many see, is not just building new facilities but also enacting sweeping justice reforms that impact the front end of the prison system.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, believes the state needs a “multi-prong” approach to corrections, which includes new prisons, better staffing, sentencing reform and a change in culture.

“Our prisons are antiquated, there may be a better word — but they were built to serve one purpose — and they did,” Hill said. “But that was decades ago and the mental health issues, the drug addiction issues just simply were not as pressing or as prevalent 30 or 40 years ago as they are today. So we’ve got to have different facilities to address those issues, but that’s just part of the solution.”

As a retired circuit judge, Hill has spent years working within the justice system, and he thinks it’s time we look at the prison population differently.

“I think we need to look and decide what we believe the makeup of the Alabama prison population needs to look like,” Hill said. “I guess what I’m saying is — people who we can deal with out of prison, or maybe in shorts spurts of incarceration, we need to look at that. People that are dangerous and violent, we need to look at that.”

Around the nation, legislatures are facing many of the same problems as Alabama recommendations from the National Conference of State Legislatures include “adjusting mandatory minimum sentences, drug penalty thresholds and felony thresholds,” to reserve prison space for, “the most dangerous offenders.” NCSL also recommends redirecting non-violent offenders to diversion programs, community supervision or treatment.

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“I think we need community corrections, drug courts and mental health courts all over the state,” Hill said. “Here, the state just doesn’t have those resources, and we need to have those resources. Not only because it keeps people out of prison, but because it helps the people that need that particular type of help.”

Hill also believes that some offenders need to remain in prison because of the nature of their crimes, but as federal courts and a recent DOJ report conclude, prisoners must be kept in humane and constitutional conditions.

“People that are dangerous and violent are the ones we need to provide the space to hold – and that space has got to be secure, it’s got to be safe,” Hill said. “It’s got to be safe not only for the prisoner, but it’s got to be safe for the officer who’s are watching them and guarding them.”

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NCSL found that many states faced with the rising cost of incarceration are enacted policies that are “aiming in part to reduce recidivism rates by providing offenders with educational and job-training services and skills they need to be successful after release.”

Alabama’s Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn believes the department’s new strategic plan is an essential part of solving the problem facing corrections.

The plan, as Dunn explained, focuses on four areas: staffing, infrastructure, programming and culture.

“For too many years in the state, corrections were just all about providing some level of security, and some people have said it was even more akin to warehousing than it was actual corrections,” Dunn said. “Our mission is to be professional corrections officers who provide safe, secure and humane incarceration — that’s our job. But it must be safe, secure and humane.”

Strategic plan interview with ADOC Commissioner Dunn

The ADOC plan incorporates programs and training in line with models that have reduced recidivism through treatment, education and job-skills training.

“The goal is to preserve expensive prison space for the most dangerous offenders while redirecting others to diversion programs, community supervision or treatment,” according to a report by NCSL.

Hill believes Dunn has faced unfair criticism in his role as commissioner of the beleaguered prison system.

“I think sometimes Jeff Dunn gets the finger pointed at him, and that’s not entirely fair. I think he inherited a bad situation, and he has not gotten the resources that he has needed to combat it,” Hill said.

While the Legislature during session did approve pay increases for corrections officers, it failed to advance justice reform as was pointed out by the Democratic Caucus in the closing days of session.

Ivey approves pay raises, bonuses for corrections officers

“House Democrats support a holistic, comprehensive criminal justice reform plan that includes serious sentencing reform, improved staff and leadership training and increased accountability and oversight to address the culture of violence in our institutions.”

Justice reform and building new prisons is a priority with Gov. Kay Ivey, who a few weeks ago said, “I believe everyone — the Legislature, the Department of Justice, the courts and, most especially, the people of Alabama — realizes there is no single solution, and there are no easy answers. It’s an Alabama problem that calls for an Alabama solution.”

“I agree with Gov. Ivey,” Hill said. “‘It’s an Alabama problem, and we need an Alabama solution.’ That’s certainly a thought I can hold onto.”

Hill also thinks ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn has not deserved the harsh criticism over his management of the department.

Hill has joined Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, in seeking justice reform. Ward has for years been a singular champion in the fight to upend the old system and replace it with a model that fits the times.

Both men are working with DOJ to address the systemic abuse and system-wide horror that inmates and corrections officers face on a daily basis.

Justice Department report documents horrific violence, sexual abuse in Alabama prisons

Ivey has not committed to calling a special session, but it seems at least some in the Legislature are prepared to face the tough challenges that will lead to change within the criminal justice system.

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.

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Crime

Alabama parole officers seize firearms, ammunition and drugs in Enterprise

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Officers of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday seized two semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and drugs from a convicted armed robber in an operation in Enterprise. One of the seized weapons was stolen.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Charlie Graddick praised officers Jared McPhaul and Troy Staley for their work.

“The first job every day of our officers is to protect public safety,” Graddick said. “These officers stopped a parolee with a violent history from potentially using illegal weapons to harm someone. We are all grateful for their hard work and dedication.”

The officers arrested parolee Jay Gatewood on a parole violation. Gatewood is out on parole after serving prison time for first-degree robbery and child abuse. Evidence of a possible parole violation was found after a search of Gatewood’s car.

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Parolees are required to report to parole officers periodically. Gatewood had failed to report for the month of October so McPhaul directed him to come to the Enterprise office to report. The officers had received a tip that Gatewood might be engaging in illegal activities.

When Gatewood arrived, the officers, acting on the tip, asked if there was anything improper in his vehicle. On questioning, Gatewood admitted to the officers that there was a gun in his car.

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McPhaul and Staley then searched the vehicle and found two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns. They also found three ammunition magazines, two of which were fully loaded, and a jar of marijuana with a digital scale.

The parole officers turned the evidence over to the Enterprise Police Department. McPhaul said that one of the guns had been reported stolen.

On March 17, 2008, Gatewood was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Dothan law office. He received three additional years for a child abuse conviction.

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After serving just eight years of his sentence with the Alabama Department of Corrections, Gatewood was paroled in 2016. This was before Graddick was appointed the director of Pardons and Paroles. Gatewood has been supervised by parole officers since his release from prison.

For a convicted criminal to be in possession of firearms is a federal offense. That as well as the possession of illegal drugs and stolen property are all parole violations.

Gatewood, who has been jailed for the alleged parole violations, could potentially have his parole revoked for any one or more of these offenses. That will be determined in a future hearing.

Gatewood could potentially face new charges in the federal system for the gun charge. The stolen property and the marijuana could also be prosecuted in the state court system.

The possession of the digital scale is an indication that the marijuana was for other than personal use.

Depending on the amount of marijuana in the jar and any other evidence presented to the grand jury, Gatewood could potentially face a felony drug charge.

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Crime

Alabama inmate dies after inmate-on-inmate assault

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Prattville man became at least the 19th Alabama inmate to have died this year in a state prison of circumstances that were avoidable. 

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Wells death makes at least the 19th inmate to have died from either suicide, drug overdoses or homicide, according to records kept by the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice. His death is at least the seventh suspected homicide in state prisons this year. 

ADOC doesn’t typically publish information on an inmate death unless a reporter discovers the death through other means and requests the information, with the expectation of deaths of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, which the department does regularly release. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Wells by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message to APR. “Wells’s exact cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death.”

A U.S. Department of Justice report in April 2019 found that Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons for men were likely in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and that ADOC regularly failed to protect inmates from sexual and physical violence perpetrated by other inmates.

An expected followup report by the Department of Justice in July detailed why the federal government believes systemic use of excessive force within Alabama’s prisons for men violates the Eighth Amendment. 

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As of Tuesday, at least 29 state inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19. There have been 453 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 429 among prison staff as of Oct. 14, according to ADOC.

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Crime

28th Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Johnny Dwight Terry on Oct. 8 became the 28th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Terry, 74, had multiple health conditions and was taken from Limestone Correctional Facility to a local hospital on Oct. 6 after exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. He tested positive at the hospital where he remained until his death, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release on Friday. 

Two additional inmates and four workers at Limestone prison also tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC, bringing the total number of inmates who have tested positive at the prison to 23 and infected staff to 26. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Two prison workers at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman died after testing positive for the disease. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 2,834 had been tested for coronavirus as of Oct. 7, according to ADOC.

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Corruption

Attorney general opposes motion to reconsider Hubbard’s prison sentence

“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard reported for his prison sentence at the Lee County Detention Facility on Sept. 11.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a court filing Tuesday opposed a request by former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s attorney for the court to reconsider his 4-year sentence on six felony ethics violations.

Marshall in the filing said that after four years of appeals, Hubbard remains convicted of those felonies.

“This Court’s carefully calibrated sentence of a four-year split, among other penalties, properly accounted for the severity of Hubbard’s crimes, the position of trust he abused, and the need for serious penalties to deter other wrongdoers,” Marshall wrote to the court. “In addition, Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency now that he is finally in jail.”

“In sum, nothing material has changed since Hubbard earned his four-year sentence four years ago. It’s simply time for him to serve it. Accordingly, his motion should be denied,’ Marshall continued.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

He began serving his four-year sentence for the six convictions of using his office for personal gain on Sept. 11.

Hubbard’s attorney argued in a separate court filing that the court should reconsider his sentence because five of the 12 convictions were reversed, but Marshall told the court Tuesday that the sentence Hubbard received was just.

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“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court.

Hubbard’s attorney in his request to reconsider sentencing also argued that Hubbard has already suffered from a “divestment of his business interests.”

Hubbard’s convictions related to consulting contracts that enriched him while he served as speaker.

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The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

“Suffice it to say, it is a bad advocacy strategy for Hubbard to mourn his loss of an income stream worth millions, which he financed on the backs of hard-working Alabamians who expected an honest elected official. That Hubbard has lost some of these ill-gotten gains in no way suggests that Hubbard has paid back his debt to society,” Marshall wrote to the court.

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