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“Second Chance” bill dies in House, leaving elderly men to die in prison

The bill would have provided a procedure for some individuals to undergo review for possible release.

Alabama State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.
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Last year, State Rep. Chris England’s “Second Chance” bill made it three-quarters of the way through the Legislature, passing out of the House by a vote of 64-39 before ultimately running out of time in the Senate.

The bill would provide a procedure for some individuals sentenced to life without parole under the outdated Habitual Felony Offender Act who have served more than 24 years in prison to undergo review for possible release.

“Many of these individuals who have served over 25 years in prison are well over 60, 65 years old, a lion’s share of them, actually are,” England said on the floor Thursday. “And if you’re able to make it through the process of 25 years in prison and maintain a relatively clean record and adding in the fact that if you were sentenced at a different time you’d likely be out already anyway, in my opinion, to me, this feels like the right thing to do.”

The bill looked like it might gain traction early in this session as one of the first bills passed out of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. But the bill stalled for weeks and finally made it to the House floor Thursday with just 10 days remaining in the session.

When England, D-Tuscaloosa, called for the Budget Isolation Resolution, it looked like the bill might once again have the numbers to pass the House—63 yea votes are required to clear the procedural hurdle.

As the clerk unlocked the machine, the green lights began flooding in, peaking at 61 yea votes to just 27 nays, just two votes shy to proceed. But many of the green lights quickly began turning red, The final count was 49-48, well shy of the required three-fifths majority.

According to England, about 150 people would have been eligible under the law to have their sentences reviewed. Supporters of the bill say the men pose little threat to society and were punished under an archaic law. 

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“At the end of the day, I’ve looked at some of these stories and there’s some individuals who it just seems unreasonable that they’re serving a lifetime, basically a death sentence in prison,” said State Rep. Rick Rehm, R-Dothan.

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

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