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September 13, 2010

Interesting judicial perspective on prison overcrowding in Alabama

This local story from Alabama, which is headlined "Overcrowded prisons open Madison County judge's eyes," provides interesting background with how the state's judiciary is looking at the problems of prison overcrowding. Here are excerpts:

With state prisons stuffed beyond capacity and no signs of any slowdown in the volume of drug and theft cases that fill court dockets, Alabama's judges are being asked to rethink the sentences they issue.

The message came last week as all Alabama judges with power to sentence prisoners were invited by Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb to a three-day meeting in Montgomery.  Cobb wants to find ways to reduce jail overcrowding and still enforce Alabama's laws in the face of significant state budget problems.

She has said Alabama's prisons are operating at 195 percent of capacity, making it the most crowded state prison system in the U.S. Alabama has the nation's sixth highest incarceration rate; state prison costs quadrupled in 20 years to $577 million a year in 2008, and half of all new inmates in the system in 2009 were imprisoned for drug offenses, according to the chief justice.

Madison County Presiding Circuit Judge Karen Hall, who attended the conference, said the tours she took of Elmore and Tutwiler prisons are causing her to rethink how she sentences young male and female offenders.

Hall said the Alabama Legislature needs to address the lack of prison space and the lack of programs offering rehabilitation or skills training. "I saw 195 men in a dorm that was 96 degrees," she said. "They can go to church; they can play basketball or lift weights in their yard, and that's it. They need to be doing something.

"What it has done for me is made me rethink how I will handle those who are considered low-risk, especially young males, young females, and maybe give one more chance before I send them down there."  Hall favors the addition of work camps and boot camps and halfway houses to bolster the state's alternative sentencing system.

She said Madison County enjoys a good reputation with its approach to alternative sentencing, which includes a drug court, a mental health court and a family drug court.  Hall said there are clearly some counties where judges simply lock everybody up....

Alan Mann, a former prosecutor and longtime defense attorney who is running for the newly created circuit judge position, said the problems of prison overcrowding and how sentencing should work are fueled by sheer volume and a basic misunderstanding.  "The rub is, there's always going to be some disconnect between the public and the reality of the problem," Mann said. "Every politician runs on being tough on crime, cleaning up the streets.  But that's not the reality; (the case volume) never stops.  So the rubber meets the road in the courtroom with the judge, the DA and the defense attorney."...

Mann said even alternative programs can prove to be too expensive or too time-consuming for some of his drug-offense clients, who instead opt for probation.  "I'm told by many clients they simply can't afford it, it costs more than it does to pay a probation officer," he said. "Then again it takes money to run it.  There are no easy answers to these things."

September 13, 2010 at 07:45 AM | Permalink

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Comments

My son is incarcerated in Limestone CF. He was sentenced to 21 years for burgulary and never had a felony, and I feel that this is one of the reasons the prisons in Alabama are overcrowded because the sentence doesn't fit the crime. I feel he should have been sent to prison, because he deserved it, but not for 21 years. Thank You

Posted by: Shirley Woodard | Dec 1, 2010 2:22:18 PM

My son committed a burgularly, appointed an atty by the court, made bail, was out of jail for 13 months, no trouble, appeared in court and when he was in court he disagreed with something the judge said and his atty didn't say that the case should be looked at and set aside for another date, and he was sentenced to 21 years. Not asking for the sentenced to be taken away, just asking for a reduction for 21 to 20 years. Would like your response to this. Thank you Shirley Woodard

Posted by: Shirley Woodard | Dec 1, 2010 3:01:43 PM

I am a student that is very curious of how this judicial system is working these days. My boyfriend is in jail now with a possesion charge and gun charge. He has never been in trouble before and is really not a bad person that disturbs anyone. He has been in the Montgomery city jail waiting and waiting on some kind of closure to this case and they just seem to drag things out for a long time. It gets frustrating and he has already done a year a 6 months. I dont know what the big deal is with the federal system down there. He's never hurt anyone and they still keep him. The jails are already crowded but they continue to keep these prisoners here in Montgomery on some misdemeaner crimes. What is the big deal?

Posted by: Ms. Carrie | Aug 16, 2011 11:34:29 PM

son is in prison on technical violation from a five year old case violated by using Facebook and leaving state once without permissions and one dirty urine for marijuana was given a 3 year mandatory sentence or a ten split 3 with zero parole OPPORTUNITY and the judge in the case stated know the law for technical violates in Alabama but will not follow it and have my soothe ten year

Posted by: kandola vikrum | Jan 6, 2012 12:18:49 PM

Friend of an inmate. It is my opinion that the parole board is not doing their job! I have been to two parole hearings and the victim's family was there as well. The board had made up their mind before either party had a chance to defend the issue with the parole. My guess is that their decision was made because the victim's family showed up. The parole board is not going by the rules set by legislation. This inmate has served 85% of the 20 year sentence for manslaughter and the inmate was not the person that actually commited the crime but knew about it. He was a teenager at the time of the crime (1993) and not even the same person as an adult now. He has been a model inmate, never a problem, first time offender, not a threat to the community or himself. He has taken 50 plus continuing education courses, worked when jobs are available, and many, many letters from authorities recommending parole. It doesn't make any sense why he can't get a parole cut. The rules aren't being followed. If he hasn't been rehabilited by now something is obviously wrong with the system. I am sure there are many other cases similar to this one, where inmates could get paroled, and should be paroled.

Posted by: Nancy Blankensopp | Mar 21, 2012 3:56:40 PM

In love with a inmate do the get good time or is it flat my love has a year left is any of it good time just a concerned citizen

Posted by: amy | Apr 12, 2012 1:29:47 AM

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