Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ceremonially signs SB 67 into law at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Thursday, May 21, 2015. The historic criminal justice reform bill was sponsored by state Sen. Cam Ward, left, and state Rep. Mike Jones, second from right. Also pictured are Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, right and state Sen. Vivian Figures, behind Gov. Bentley, and Suzanne McBride, deputy director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
MONTGOMERY—Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday signed into law historic criminal justice reforms designed to significantly reduce the state’s prison population and bolster public safety through an overhaul of how people are supervised after being released from incarceration.
At a ceremonial bill signing ceremony in the Alabama State Capitol with representatives from all three branches of government, Governor Bentley praised the bill that will cut the state’s prison population by more than 4,200 people, avert more than $380 million in future costs and provide supervision for 3,000 more people upon release from prison.
“With the passage of SB67, Alabama has taken a significant step forward to address reform of Alabama’s criminal justice system,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “This legislation represents a unified effort by all three branches of government to make the criminal justice system more efficient. With my signature, we begin a new and sustainable course that will have a tremendous impact on the Alabama prison system. I commend the Alabama Legislature for passing this legislation.”
SB67, sponsored by State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and State Representative Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) includes policies to strengthen community-based supervision, prioritize prison space for people convicted of violent and dangerous crimes, and promote evidence-based services and treatment for people receiving supervision in the community. When fully implemented, the legislation is projected to reduce the number of people in correctional facilities by 16 percent and avert more than $380 million in costs associated with expanding prison space over the next six years.
“I am proud of the justice reforms that Alabama has taken on,” Sen. Cam Ward said. “I believe that we have passed historic changes for our state that will be a building block for future changes in our corrections system. We still have a long way to go, but I applaud the political courage in taking this first step to smarter criminal justice system.”
“There is great value in adding resources to supervision and strengthening alternatives to incarceration, which is exactly what this bill does,” Rep. Mike Jones said. “I am proud that we have delivered such strong criminal justice reform for Alabama, and, by doing so, provided judges with more confidence when diverting appropriate people away from prison.”
“I want to thank Governor Bentley and the State Legislature for their leadership in moving Alabama forward in this historic criminal justice reform initiative,” Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said. “This bill demonstrates Alabama’s commitment to addressing the challenges facing the state’s prison system. Through active and collective collaboration between all branches of government, I am confident this legislation will lead to safer prisons, safer communities and a safer Alabama.”
In June of 2014, Governor Bentley announced the launch of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a comprehensive study of the state’s criminal justice system to identify ways to implement more cost effective criminal justice policies. The Prison Reform Task Force, chaired by Sen. Ward, included nearly 30 state policymakers and practitioners who guided Alabama’s justice reinvestment process toward reducing prison crowding, containing corrections costs and reinvesting in strategies to bolster public safety. Additional details on JRI can be found here.
SB67 is based on recommendations made by the task force. The task force also recommended that the state invest $26 million in FY2016 and more than $25 million annually for FY2017 through FY2021, including funds for evidence-based substance use treatment and recidivism-reduction programming for people on supervision in the community.Other highlights of SB67 include:
• Diverting people convicted of low-level property and drug offenses away from prison;
• Strengthening supervision through promotion of evidence-based practices, and establishing criteria for how parole decisions are made;
• Completing an electronic victim notification system begun in 2012 and expanding notification to victims regarding individuals who are released from prison.
The framework was developed with support from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, which has provided data-driven analyses and policy options to state leaders in 21 states to date, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“Over the past decade there have been stops and starts, but this time there was a breakthrough that will improve public safety and keep corrections costs under control,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “It’s a remarkable tribute to the leadership of Governor Bentley, Senator Ward, and others who have championed use of data and research to drive criminal justice policy.”