Changes to the state's sentencing guidelines take effect later this year. The changes apply only to non-violent offenders, and are part of a larger effort to reform the state's sentencing structure.
"If we don't spend our money on building prisons and staffing them then we have to figure out who do we want in prison," said Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks, who serves on the Alabama Sentencing Commission. "And make sure there's enough room for the really bad actors. That's been my goal from the beginning."
The commission has spent years coming up with ways to reform sentencing in the state while protecting public safety. Barring legislative action, mandatory changes in sentences for non-violent offenders take effect in October.
More first time -offenders will get alternative sentences like drug courts or community corrections instead of prison time. The new guidelines also aim to reduce the wide disparity in sentences for crimes. Some judges are far more harsh or lenient than others.
"As a prosecutor and a person concerned about victims, we'll be watching how effective this is," Brooks said. "And the good news is it's a work in progress."
Alternative programs have seen some success. Brooks said 96% of offenders who complete one such program in Montgomery County never return to prison.
The commission has to issue a report each year to the Governor, Attorney General and Legislature.
But truth in sentencing for all crimes is a bit farther off. Guidelines have to be in place by the 2020 legislative session.
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