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Rep. Jim Hill talks prison reforms for upcoming session

Hill stands behind his philosophy that supervised release and risk assessment are crucial for public safety.

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State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, stood before members of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama in December and pleaded for support for reforms to help chip away at the state’s prison crisis.

Among several ideas proposed by Hill to address the issues was monitoring individuals upon release instead of letting them out of prison unsupervised.

Indeed, Hill passed legislation in a 2021 special session that amended the code on mandatory supervised release, including introducing language that the law applies “without regard to when he or she was sentenced for or committed the crime.”

But a new bill filed by Sen. Chris Elliot, R-Daphne, would erase that language and replace it with “This section applies to a defendant in the custody of the Department of Corrections on or after January 31, 2030.”

Another bill proposed by Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Anniston, and Sen. April Weaver, R-Anniston, would also cut incentive time by more than half and significantly reduce the opportunities for incarcerated individuals to get out of prison for good behavior.

Hill said he hasn’t read these bills and couldn’t comment on the specifics, but doubled down on his philosophy that supervised release is key to the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals.

“I’m convinced we are safer when we monitor people prior to just turning them loose without any kind of oversight whatsoever,” Hill said.

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Hill chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where these bills typically come through. Hill said he expects Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, to bring back a bill establishing oversight of the parole board, which has significantly reduced the amount of people being granted parole.

“I like the idea that he has to have standards and guidelines that they look at,” Hill said. “Risk assessment, the likelihood of reoffending, it’s a good thing to look at.”

Risk assessment was also part of the language Hill introduced in that 2021 bill on supervised release to be taken into consideration.

Hill also emphasized the idea of parole or furlough for prisoners who are in a medical state that renders them no longer a threat to society.

“I think that’s a good idea. I’d like to look at something like that, that shift folks from the prison system where obviously we pay for their medical problems—where we pay for their dialysis, whatever type of situation makes them not a threat, not a danger—to move them into a medicaid situation,” Hill said. “That might save us a good bit of money.”

Hill said he does agree with Gov. Kay Ivey’s executive order tightening the rules around good time infractions.

“Good time should not be given without being earned, but once earned we should make sure it’s applicable,” Hill said.

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In the speech to the ACCA, Hill also asked for consideration of allowing re-splitting sentences to ensure judges’ hands aren’t tied into over-sentencing certain offenders.

“I tell folks, there’s two kinds of people in prison: there’s the people that annoy us, who we just had to do something with them, and there’s people who frighten us,” Hill told the ACCA members. “The ones the frighten us need to stay there for as long as we can leave them there; the ones that annoy us, we need to figure out a better way of punishment, we really do.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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