By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Proposed legislation would reduce the amount of time parole violators serve in county jails and compensate selected jails more for holding the state inmates.
Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, is the sponsor of the bill to amend the state’s “dips and dunks” process for parole or probation violators to hopefully ease crowding and financial strains on county jails.
“With children, you have sleepovers sometimes and you don’t mind watching someone else’s young’n for a day or two but after a day or two, it gets old,” Albritton said during the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s legislative priorities meeting earlier this month.
“Dips” are when recently released state inmates have a technical violation of their parole and are sent to the county jail for a two-or three-day stay. “Dunks” are when they have six or more “dips” and are transferred to state prison for a 45-day stay. Three “dunks” could result in probation being revoked and the offender being sentenced back to prison.
Approved in a 2015 prison reform effort, some have said the dips and dunks have resulted in an unfunded mandate on county jails. Dunks appear to be a significant problem because of lag time in transferring inmates from county jails to state prisons.
The new bill reduces the amount of “dips” to no more than six days per month, instead of the current nine days. The bill also shortens the amount of “dips” from no more than nine total days per violator instead of the current 18 days before the inmate is to be transferred back to prison or one of several jails willing to take them. Those parole violators serving for “dunks” are now held in county jails before moving to prisons and county officials have said it takes too long to get them back in state custody.
Crowding in county jails has been an ongoing issue just as the state’s prison system has been crowded for the past several decades.
Data from the ACCA that was released for fiscal year 2019 showed the number of state inmates in county jails increased by 6,000 from 2014 to 2019 and the cost for county jail operations and sheriff department costs increased by $93 million during the same period.
Data on how county jails have been impacted during fiscal year 2020 is still being gathered but a report is expected to be released early in 2021, ACCA director of communications Abby Fitzpatrick told ADN.
Counties would no longer be responsible for covering health care costs for any inmates held for “dips” and “dunks” and the Alabama Department of Corrections would reimburse the counties for that cost under the new legislation.
The bill also creates a process to establish three consenting county jails in the state to take the “dunks” based on the capacity to hold the extra inmates. A process to establish annual contracts between the state and the three county jails to determine the cost for housing and medical care of inmates is also included in the bill. ADOC would be responsible for jail inspections.
There would also be changes to make inmate transfers from jails to prisons more efficient. Within five days of sentencing, courts must enter conviction and sentencing data into the State Judicial Information System. Transfers from county to state must take place no later than 30 days after receipt of an electronic transcript by ADOC.
Albritton said clearly defining when an inmate is to be transferred and setting up a timeline to do it by will resolve some of the conflicts that have arisen between the counties and ADOC.
“Right now, there seems to be a game being played between the two governments, a hot potato game, of who’s got it now,” Albritton told ADN. “What I’m trying to do is be specific to when the state is liable and when they should be taking control.”
If inmates are not accepted by ADOC, the county sheriffs have permission to hand-deliver the inmates on the first business day after the 30 days.
A comment from ADOC about proposed changes to the current law was not immediately available.
The bill also says parolees and probationers would also be prevented from buying, owning or possessing firearms. Albritton says this isn’t about violating people’s Second Amendment rights, but about keeping firearms out of dangerous people’s hands.
“This is a means of ensuring that law-abiding citizens continue to have the right,” Albritton said.
Albritton, who chairs the Senate’s General Fund budget committee, did not know how much this will cost the state yet but said some funds may need to come out of ADOC’s budget to make sure the counties are more fairly compensated.
“It’s going to cost the government, the question is whose pocket is it going to come from,” Albritton said.
The ACCA has been pushing for legislation like this for many years and executive director Sonny Brasfield told members that it plans to fight any legislation that is not working toward easing crowding and financial strains on county jails.
“Alabama counties will oppose any changes to laws related to the operation of the prison system in Alabama until or unless the Legislature corrects the unintended consequences from the 2015 prison reform act,” Brasfield said.
The regular legislative session is scheduled to begin Feb. 2.