Alabama state leaders celebrated a victory in September when the Legislature voted to allocate $16 million of the state’s General Fund budget to jumpstart wide-ranging justice reinvestment legislation enacted earlier this year.
Signed by Gov. Robert Bentley (right) on Sept. 17, the budget was the subject of a six-month stalemate between the governor, the Senate, and the House. The approved budget allocates $166 million in new revenue, which makes way for the $16 million for criminal justice reform—one of the largest upfront amounts ever approved by a state to support its justice reinvestment legislation.
Alabama’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) was launched in June 2014 to address the issue of overcrowding in the state’s prisons, which were operating at 195 percent of capacity. Following research and recommendations from The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force, Gov. Bentley signed into law a comprehensive prison reform bill in May 2015 that received broad, bipartisan legislative support and is projected to reduce the state’s prison population by 4,200 people over the next five years.
The reform bill—sponsored by Alabama Sen. Cam Ward (R–District 14), chair of the Prison Reform Task Force—focused on diverting people convicted of nonviolent offenses away from prison, as well as investing in parole, probation, and other community-based services aimed at reducing recidivism.
“This is the biggest challenge our state has ever faced, and the Legislature has shown it understands the enormity of the problem by committing to criminal justice reform in this budget,” Ward said. “[The Justice Reinvestment] effort represents a unified effort by all three branches of government to accomplish this goal. This effort has succeeded in other states, saving money and enhancing public safety at the same time.”
Of the newly allocated funds designated to set Alabama’s JRI in motion, $7 million will go toward hiring additional parole and probation supervision staff to lower caseloads, $4.5 million will be invested in expanding the number of people served by community corrections programs, $4 million will be used to fund increased access to community-based treatment programs to reduce recidivism, and $500,000 is committed for making improvements to the state’s victim notification system.
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