Ward’s sentencing reform bill passes legislature

FROM STAFF REPORTS

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign a bill sponsored by state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, aimed at cutting down on the state’s prison overpopulation.

The bill would change the make-up of the Sentencing Commission. It also mandates that the recommendations by the commission become effective unless specifically rejected by the Alabama Legislature, and requires truth-in-sentencing guidelines by 2020.

“This is a big step forward for our state,” Ward said. “Our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders, and no judge, jury or victim can tell you how long a convicted criminal will actually stay in prison. This bill goes a long way to getting that piece of mind for Alabama’s crime victims and their families.”

The bill would add to the Sentencing Commission two more district attorneys appointed by the president of The Alabama District Attorneys’ Association, a victim of a violent felony, or those whose immediate family member was a victim of a violent felony, appointed by the governor, a sheriff appointed by The Sheriff’s Association and an active police officer appointed by The Association of Chiefs of Police.

Alabama’s prison system is one of the most overcrowded in the country, and steps have to be taken to avoid the morass of lawsuits, unfunded mandates and federal takeover, according to a press release from Ward’s office.

“The state is in dire fiscal condition, and the sentencing reform legislation aims to alleviate the overcrowding problems with an eye to ever-shrinking state revenues,” read the release.

The effects will also help the state avoid widespread release of prisoners and avoid prison privatization, Ward said.