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Bill to change ‘good time’ law named for slain deputy

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson was shot and killed in 2022 by a man authorities said had his prison sentence shortened under Alabama’s good-time behavior incentive law despite escaping from a prison work release center in 2019.

Republican Sen. April Weaver, who was a friend of Johnson’s and lives yards from where he was fatally shot, is proposing legislation that would roll back the use of good-time incentives, cutting the time that inmates can shave off their sentences, and mandating that certain actions, including escape, cause an inmate to lose all of their credit. Austin Hall, the man accused of killing Johnson and shooting another deputy, served less than four years of a nearly 10-year sentence for theft, according to state records.

“They were shot by a felon who was given good-time credits even though he had a history of a lot of bad behavior when he was incarcerated,” Weaver said at a news conference Thursday.

The shooting has led to calls to revamp the good-time behavior incentive law, which Weaver and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Thursday called the most generous in the country. But opponents argue the incentives are public safety tools that encourage inmates to better themselves. The issues around the suspect’s release are also complicated. Hall could have had his good-time credit revoked for the escape, but he never returned to state custody after the escape.

Alabama allows certain inmates sentenced to 15 or fewer years in prison to receive “good time” behavior incentives— earning up to 75 days of credit for every 30 days of good behavior. Most inmates, including those convicted of murder or manslaughter. are not eligible. In 2021, about 9% of state inmates were eligible for these incentives, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

“The subject that done this had done roughly three years of his 10-year sentence and had been out roughly three days before he shot my deputy and murdered my friend,” Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade said Thursday.

Weaver’s bill would slash incentive time credits by more than half and mandate that escape and other offenses would cause an inmate to lose all of their good time credits. It would also require the prison system to submit reports about its use.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama opposes Weaver’s legislation, saying “people traditionally released on ‘good time’ have earned that time, and its existence incentivizes individuals to utilize education and programming opportunities.”

“This bill will further entrench our state in the issues pervading Alabama’s overcrowded and unconstitutional prisons. Limiting ‘good time’ is not in the interest of public safety, as the sponsor is purporting,” Dillon Nettles, the ACLU’s Policy and Advocacy director, said in a statement. The Department of Justice has accused Alabama of housing male prisoners in violent conditions that violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Hall, was serving a nine-year sentence for theft when he escaped from a Camden Work Release Center in 2019. He was on the run for about a month before he was captured after a police chase.

An Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman wrote in a July email that Hall had a good time balance of 2,268 days but never came back to prison custody after his escape, “so he never had a disciplinary hearing to revoke the good time.” He faced other unrelated charges, but he was allowed to bond out of local jails.

Justin Barkley, chief deputy general counsel for Ivey, told a legislative committee earlier this month that one issue was that Hall was in a couple of different county jails and not returned to state custody. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in January issued an executive order putting uniform rules on the use of good time and seeking better communication among law enforcement agencies.

Deputy Chris Poole, the other deputy shot in the incident, recalled Johnson as a man who wanted to help others. “I watched him try to get people to change their life. It wasn’t just putting them in jail and saying we’re done with you,” Poole said.

Poole said after he was shot through his windshield that he radioed Johnson saying, “Brad, don’t chase him” but Johnson continued. Weaver’s husband, a doctor, rushed to try to help Johnson after he was shot, the county sheriff said.

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