Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Attorney General calls for further reform to prison release supervision

A 2021 law that has led to the early release of hundreds of Alabama inmates in order to secure their supervision continues to draw criticism from state leaders.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who spoke against the legislation in 2021, is calling for further reform to prison release supervision.

“In Alabama, right now, over 20,000 individuals are subject to supervision, but for the first time as a result of this bill, many of those are now including violent offenders and we’ve never done that before,” Marshall said in an interview on last week’s episode of Capitol Journal.

The Alabama Legislature first passed the early, supervised release law in 2015 in a series of criminal justice reform bills — in part due to the overcrowding of Alabama’s prisons. The law initially applied to inmates sentenced in 2015 or earlier. In 2021, the Legislature expanded the law to those sentenced after 2015. The effective date of that expansion was Jan. 31, 2023.

The law requires inmates to be released between three and 12 months before their sentences end to be supervised by the Alabama Board of Pardon and Paroles for the remainder of their given sentence. The release comes with the requirement of electronic monitoring. It applies to those convicted of some violent crimes, including murder and manslaughter.

“This was going to make the law passed in 2015 retroactive, which means we’re going to capture significant numbers [of inmates] coming out [of prison] compared to the trickle, if you will, before,” Marshall said. “More principally, it was going to capture disproportionately violent offenders because our prison system is heavily weighted over 80% of individuals being violent offenders.”

Another problem Marshall says with the law is the state’s ability to supervise the required number of offenders.

“There were a little over 400 released just in the month of January, but we still have February through July, anywhere between 1,000 to 1,200,” Marshall said.

Since the law went into effect, 519 inmates have been put on early, monitored release, ABPP Director Cam Ward told Alabama Daily News on Monday. Twenty-four have reoffended, Ward said. Almost all those offenses were drug related and none of them were violent crimes.

So far, the data is showing an uptick in violent crime, but a substance addiction problem, Ward said.

Thirty-five of those released early have already seen their sentences end and are no longer under supervision.

Meanwhile, Ward said his department had more than a year to prepare for the increased supervision caseload and was allocated more money by lawmakers for electronic monitoring and staffing. Ward said the national standard goal is one officer for every 85 people on probation or parole. Alabama has a ration of one to 75.

Supporters of the law said that monitoring those on early release is more beneficial than letting them leave prison without any supervision at the end of their sentence.

State Rep. Jim Hill, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee explained that, under previous Alabama law, there would have been no supervision on these inmates once their sentences eventually ended anyway.

“When that sentence ends, when it’s over, when you’ve served the entirety of your sentence, you are released,” Hill said on a separate episode of Capitol Journal. “You walk out the jail with no supervision, no monitoring, no check in time, no drug monitoring, anything that would keep you in a supervisory type setting for some time.

“I don’t think that’s god for public safety.”

Marshall said the question is when the supervision occurs.

“This law is shortening the time for [inmates] to come out to supervision as opposed to a federal model, which would require them to serve their sentence then come out to supervision,” Marshall said.

“I would love for us to look at what should sentencing be in Alabama, what a sentence actually means when that judge says to an individual ‘you’re going to serve X number of years’ and then how do we then allow public safety to be enhanced consistent to this idea of supervision occurring but occurring once someone has paid their debt back to society through the service of that sentence.”

Marshall, in January, filed a lawsuit against Corrections Commissioner John Hamm seeking a restraining order to block the release of the inmates until crime victims are notified. Hamm said releases were not happening until victims were notified.

The temporary restraining order was denied.

Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, earlier this year prefiled a bill that would block further implementation of the early release law until 2030.

Alabama Daily News’ Mary Sell contributed to this report.

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia