Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley last week signed into law historic criminal justice reforms designed to significantly reduce the state’s prison population and bolster public safety through an overhaul of how people are supervised after being released from incarceration.
At a ceremonial bill signing in the Alabama State Capitol, before representatives from all three branches of government, Gov. Bentley praised a bill that will cut the state’s prison population by more than 4,200 people, avert more than $380 million in future costs and provide supervision for 3,000 more people upon release from prison.
“The number of inmates incarcerated in Alabama’s prisons has significantly increased over the last decade,” Governor Bentley said. “With the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, we had an opportunity to examine areas to maximize efforts in the criminal justice system that will benefit our department of corrections.”
SB67, sponsored by State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and State Representative Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) includes policies to strengthen community-based supervision, prioritize prison space for people convicted of violent and dangerous crimes, and promote evidence-based services and treatment for people receiving supervision in the community. When fully implemented, the legislation is projected to reduce the number of people in correctional facilities by 16 percent and avert more than $380 million in costs associated with expanding prison space over the next six years.
“As I have said before, this is not the final end result,” said Sen. Ward, who is also a CSG Justice Center Board member. “This is a first step in a long road we have ahead to fixing our corrections system. We will do it. We can do it. And the votes in both these chambers, and the work by the members as well as our governor shows that we are willing to step forward and take the big leap that we have to make.”
Ward chaired the state’s Prison Reform Task Force, established in June 2014 and made up of close to 30 policy-makers and practitioners. The group eventually developed a set of proposals, with analysis and technical assistance provided by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. The Task Force will reconvene as the policies go into effect.
SB67 is based on recommendations made by the state’s Prison Reform Task Force, established in June 2014 and made up of about 30 policy-makers and practitioners. The task force also recommended that the state invest $26 million in FY2016 and more than $25 million annually for FY2017 through FY2021, including funds for evidence-based substance use treatment and recidivism-reduction programming for people on supervision in the community. Gov. Bentley prioritized funding for the implementation of SB67, and the Alabama Legislature is now considering it as part of its budget negotiations. Other highlights of the bill include:
- Diverting people convicted of low-level property and drug offenses away from prison;
- Strengthening supervision through promotion of evidence-based practices, and establishing criteria for how parole decisions are made;
- Completing an electronic victim notification system begun in 2012 and expanding notification to victims regarding individuals who are released from prison.
The framework was developed with support from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, which has provided data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 21 states to date, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“Over the past decade there have been stops and starts, but this time there was a breakthrough that will improve public safety and keep corrections costs under control,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “It’s a remarkable tribute to the leadership of Governor Bentley, Senator Ward, and others who have championed use of data and research to drive criminal justice policy.”
Jefferson Dunn, commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections, said that the changes put in place “a data-driven, evidence-based approach – a proven approach to reducing prison crowding and decreasing recidivism.”
“I consider this legislation the beginning of a new day for the department, and our prisons,” Dunn added. “The potential is there, and I think we’ve made tangible progress towards tackling decades-long issues.”
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