The Alabama Senate has passed a bill aimed at alleviating overcrowded prisons and saving the state thousands of dollars. SB386 will allow non-violent criminals to do an alternative program like work release or drug court. The idea is to keep the non-violent criminals out of prison so the violent ones can actually serve their entire sentence.
In Jefferson County the jail is built to house 960 inmates, but Chief Deputy Randy Christian says it averages 1,200 inmates daily.
"We've got people over there sleeping on the floor and the staffing level is not where it's supposed to be," said Christian.
"We're the most overcrowded prison system in the country with 193% capacity and quite honestly if we don't do something, we'll be forced to a lawsuit that we don't want to do and we don't have the money to do," said Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster.
Ward says about 65% of the state's inmates are non-violent offenders. His bill would take those convicts out of the state prison system and put them into alternative programs.
"About 65 percent of the states inmates are non-violent offenders, and we don't want a situation where the federal courts take over and begin releasing inmates," Ward said in a release about the bill's passing "This is a creative solution to that problem," he added.
While that may relieve some of the overcrowding, Christian says it may not be the best solution.
"That 65% we're talking about they're not all going to pass the tests and they're not all going to be rehabilitated so at some point law enforcement is going to have to deal with them again when they really should be in the penitentiary," said Christian.
Christian would like to see the bill address what happens to repeat offenders.
"Let's put a clause in there that says if they violate this program that they go straight to the penitentiary and not our county jails just to be held there until they can go to court again," said Christian.
Ward says he believes the sentencing reform bill will keep violent offenders in Alabama in prison longer because the prison population growth will slow down.
"This bill will allow judges to sentence non-violent offenders to community corrections, mental health court and drug court," Ward said. "Slowing the prison population growth is critical to the safety of Alabamians."
Currently Alabama pays less per prisoner than any other state in the U.S., according to Ward.
The Alabama House will look at this issue after the Legislature's spring break.
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