Legal experts aren't surprised by Chris McNair's early release

Legal experts aren't surprised by Chris McNair's early release

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Chris McNair. Source: WBRC file video Chris McNair. Source: WBRC file video

The early release of former Jefferson County Commissioner Chris McNair from federal prison is not a surprise to some local legal experts and politicians.

Earlier Thursday, McNair left a federal prison medical facility in Rochester, Minn. where he has been for the past two years. McNair's declining health was cited at the reason for the motion for early release. In the court order, the court found McNair's "age (87) and deteriorating health constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting the requested relief."

"I think its being driven by the economics of prison. We can't afford to keep all the people in prison we want to keep in prison," John Carroll, Dean of the Cumberland Law School, said.

Carroll said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a study of the federal prisons system. In April of this year the U.S. Department of Justice released its study on the Compassionate Release Program. Carroll said McNair's age - McNair is 87-years-old - contributed to the decision.

"He was one of the oldest of the 200,000 in the prison system. I think that was a significant factor," Carroll said."It costs three times as much to keep somebody like Chris McNair in prison than it does another offender."

The law school dean said the decision could affect former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford's release from federal prison. Langford is serving time for accepting bribes and is reportedly very sick. But, Carroll points out McNair was older and had a shorter sentence than Langford.

But not everyone is looking at dollars and cents. Our Facebook page has been filled with comments saying McNair should serve his time. One person even asked whether he'll pay back money to taxpayers.

Longtime friend Natalie Davis thinks the release was the right thing to do.

"He was a good man. He messed up but he was really a good-hearted person," she said. "He was a giving person."

Davis agrees that what McNair did was wrong but she says it's also wrong for him to serve time at his age and in his poor health.

"His life was one of service and he messed up. There's no question about that but I think from my point of view and it is my point of view, I want to give him a pass," Davis said.

Meanwhile Birmingham Representative John Rogers is glad to see the release. Rogers served with McNair in Montgomery in the state house of representatives. Rogers does not believe McNair will want to take part in the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed his daughter Denise.

"Chris just wants to go home and be with his family the last few years. I don't think he want to take part in any kind of ceremony," Rogers said.

Rogers believes McNair will want to live out his life quietly with his family here in Birmingham. He also believes McNair will be remembered for the good things he accomplished.

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