Alabama’s current correctional incentive time structure is “all carrot and no stick,” Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth told media Thursday at a press conference supporting a bill by Sen. April Weaver, R-Alabaster, to slash good time incentives.
The bill is named the Deputy Brad Johnson Act in reference to the Bibb County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot in the line of duty by a man who had been released from prison on good time.
Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade and Bibb County Deputy Chris Poole recounted the events that led to the deputy’s tragic death. Poole himself survived after being shot in the head following a high speed pursuit of the suspect.
Weaver said the situation unfolded practically at the end of her driveway.
“They were shot by a felon who was given good time credit, even though he had a history of a lot of bad behavior while he was incarcerated,” Weaver said. “As we looked at the way good time is given in Alabama, we realized there are some holes that we need to fix.”
The suspect, Austin Patrick Hall, had escaped from prison and faced multiple new charges including the theft of a vehicle from the City of Oxford. Yet, his good time was never taken away from him and he was released.
The murder of Deputy Johnson occurred just three days later.
“Hopefully this news conference, and the actions we take during the regular session, will ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again,” Ainsworth said. “Alabama’s system of awarding good time credits is more liberal than California’s.”
Gov. Kay Ivey has already passed an executive order creating a system of regulations on how much good time to revoke for certain violations, which her office said is an attempt to tighten up the system.
Ainsworth called Ivey’s executive order a “good temporary stopgap measure,” but said this bill would be a more permanent fix.
“The motto in Alabama should be ‘Good behavior is expected, good time should be earned,’” Ainsworth said.
In addition to Ainsworth’s support in the Senate, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, told Weaver the bill would have the support of House Republicans.
“Every so often a tragic event reveals a flaw that needs to be corrected, and the loss of Deputy Johnson and the wounding of Deputy Poole offers strong evidence that Alabama’s system of awarding good time credit is broken, and needs to be repaired.”
Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, will carry the bill in the House. As a captain in the Russell County Sheriff’s Office, Bedsole said he too went to the scene of the crime when Johnson was killed.
“I have a certain emotional connection to it as well,” Bedsole said.
The ACLU of Alabama has spoken in opposition of the bill.
“People traditionally released on ‘good time’ have earned that time, and its existence incentivizes individuals to utilize education and programming opportunities,” said Dillon Nettles, ACLU of Alabama’s policy and advocacy director. “When death and mistreatment are rampant in Alabama prisons, why propose legislation that does nothing to address the problems at hand? This bill will further entrench our state in the issues pervading Alabama’s overcrowded and unconstitutional prisons. Limiting ‘good time’ is not in the interest of public safety, as the sponsor is purporting.”
Weaver said Thursday that “Alabama is being invaded by soft-on-crime, liberal lawyers who are being sent here to address things like this.”
“We are a very conservative state, we love our law enforcement officers, we are going to protect our victims and we are gong to focus on public safety,” Weaver said.
It’s not only the ACLU lawyers that have expressed concern about the bill though.
Justin Barkley, general counsel for the governor’s office, told the Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee last week that there could be a “snowball effect” on the prison population.
Weaver said that she and her colleagues are “looking into that.”
“We are having discussions, actually today as we speak, related to that,” Weaver said.