Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, addressed reporters following day one of the 2021 special session to address the situation in Alabama’s prisons.
“Right now, we are still having conversations,” Daniels said. Following his meeting with the Alabama Capital Press Corps, Daniels said that he would meet with the House Democratic Caucus to hear their views on the issue.
“Some members feel we have not gone far enough,” Daniels said of the legislative package that did include two of the justice reform bills that Democrats insist should be part of the larger prison reform effort.
House Bill 1 allows inmates sentenced more harshly than the 2013 sentencing guidelines to be eligible for resentencing while HB2 gives inmates re-entering society a period of supervised release by the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles at the end of their sentences.
Both of those bills will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday ahead of day 2 of the special session.
“I am satisfied, but I think we still need to go further,” Daniels said. “We have to get more serious about the total package on the reform side.”
“A total reform of the pardons and paroles board is needed,” Daniels said when asked how he would like to see justice reform improved. “They need guidelines. They are relitigating cases. They are closing doors on people who have been incarcerated for 30 years.”
“Director (Cam) Ward is working really hard,” Daniels said, “But the bottleneck is there (the Board).”
HB1 would only affect about 700 inmates.
“You can improve 700 lives or do you do nothing,” Daniels said when asked about the bill. “We are trying to solve the problem, but the Legislature is moving at a snail’s pace.”
Daniels said that he did support prison construction efforts.
“I am not 100 percent satisfied with the entire process, but it is a step in the right direction,” Daniels said.
‘When you see beds next to each other and 50 to 100 beds in a room,” Daniels said that is a problem particularly in hiring more corrections officers. “Who would want to go to a job with your life is in jeopardy every day?”
“When you look at the number of beds that are next to each other, when you look at the crimes that have occurred in the facilities, and when you look at the corruption in the facilities, surveillance and technology use will help end that,” Daniels said of the brick-and-mortar portion of the plan.
Daniels stressed that the plan does not increase the capacity of the prison system.
“We must understand that we are not adding beds,” Daniels said. “There are no additional beds. There will be closures.”
“Correction should be about correcting, not warehousing,” Daniels said. “If we were creating another warehouse situation, I would be in total agreement” with opponents of the plan.
Daniels said that with an aging inmate population, that the Department of Correction needs better healthcare with more hospital beds and mental health facilities for inmates. That facility is being built in Elmore County.
Daniels stressed that the long-term solution is for the state to reduce recidivism.
“This is a much more positive approach,” Daniels said. “The state is doing a small measure with Ingram State, but need to do it on a broad basis so that we can end the revolving door.”
Daniels stressed that he was speaking just for himself and not for the full Democratic Caucus, especially since some members have prisons in their districts that are facing possible closure in this plan.
The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee will consider the $780 million bond issue to pay for the construction, HB4, as well as the appropriation of $400 million in American Rescue Act funds to pay for prisons, HB5, on Tuesday when it meets. The Committee will also consider spending $19 million to purchase a closed private prison in Perry County HB6.
The House Judiciary Committee will meet to consider the justice reform bills, HB1 and HB2, when it meets today. With committee approval, all five bills could be considered by the full House on Wednesday in hopes that the sessions can wrap up on Friday.