The Alabama House of Representatives passed a sentencing reform bill Tuesday, giving some state prisoners, who were sentenced before the new sentencing guidelines were passed, to have an opportunity for resentencing.
House Bill 24 is sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville. Hill chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is a retired circuit court judge in St. Clair County. Hill said, “This is a look back provision for those who were sentenced prior to the sentencing guidelines reforms of 2010 to 2014.”
For an inmate to be eligible, the sentencing for the offense must have been prior to 2014, Hill said. They also had to be sentenced more harshly than they would have been under the newer state sentencing guidelines. Hill explained that Alabama’s sentencing guidelines were not passed until 2010 and then they were voluntary. Beginning in 2013 the guidelines became presumptive, Hill said: “Judges still have the discretion to sentence more harshly than the guidelines, but he had to articulate a reason why he did that deviation.”
Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, asked: “Would this be needed if there wasn’t such a backlog at Pardons and Paroles?” Hill responded that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles is behind some 2,500 hearings on pardons and 5,000 hearings on paroles because the board could not meet often in the last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Hill said that under this, the case would go back to the trial judge, not the Pardons and Paroles Board.
“This potential resentencing would affect at most a thousand individuals,” Hill said. “They would go back to the sentencing judge. It would give him the opportunity to resentence under the new sentencing guidelines.”
Hill said that 25 percent to 20 percent of the inmates in Alabama prisons are non-violent, while 75 percent to 80 percent are there for violent crimes. Hill explained that whether or not to grant a resentencing hearing would be at the discretion of the trial judge and the offender “has to show behavior that demonstrates his fitness for release.”
Hill said that two years ago, Gov. Kay Ivey asked a number of us to meet to consider sentencing reform. This was an idea put forward by retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons.
“There were individuals sentenced prior to 2010 and 2013 that were sentenced more harshly than they would be after 2013,” Hill explained. “This is a resentencing and not a parole hearing.” The district attorney would be able to be heard at the hearing, Hill said, adding: “The judge does not have to do this. This would be at the discretion of the judge. There is nothing in the bill requiring the judge to do this.”
“As it stands today the individuals in this group have not been paroled and will not be released any time soon,” Hill explained.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is having to deal with a longstanding prison overcrowding situation. It would be much worse if ADOC actually picked up their prisoners from Alabama’s county jails when they are supposed to. The state also faces a Department of Justice lawsuit that claims that Alabama prisons are not safe and that incarceration in Alabama’s prison system constitutes an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment.”
HB24 passed the House by a vote of 63 to 33 with one member abstaining. The bill now goes on to the Alabama Senate.