By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — As Alabama grapples with a prison crisis, a study commission created by Gov. Kay Ivey recommended Thursday that the state make a push to reduce recidivism, undertake sentencing reform and increase oversight and spending in the corrections system.
The governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy returned its recommendations ahead of the legislative session that starts next week, but their success will depend on support from the state lawmakers.
The state’s troubled prison system has been in the national spotlight. The governor created the group after the U.S. Department of Justice last year threatened to sue Alabama over excessive violence and other problems in its prisons.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, Jr., who chaired the group, wrote in a letter that the challenges facing the state prison system are “exceedingly complex” and “many decades in the making.”
Lyons said the commission is recommending new policies and programs “as part of a bold new commitment to reducing recidivism.”
“We cannot sustain a system in which these inmates become more violent while in prison and then commit new crimes upon release from prison only to return to prison. … For the members of the Study Group, the most effective way to stop this cycle is to invest in strategies that reduce the likelihood of recidivism,” Lyons wrote.
The group urged improving education programs for inmates, with more funding for in-custody educational programs and a program that would allow nonviolent offenders to qualify for early release incentives if they undergo educational training.
The panel also urged increased efforts to connect jail inmates with mental health services and more oversight of inmates before and after their release.
Sentencing reform was also among the recommendations.
Lyons said the group “could support very narrowly drafted legislation granting targeted, retroactive sentencing relief to certain categories of nonviolent offenders.”
The report said that could include a narrow revamp of Alabama’s habitual offender law, such as allowing the possibility of parole — instead of life without parole — for habitual offenders if no person was harmed in the crimes.
The group also recommended increased appropriations for the Department of Corrections, and oversight measures that would give lawmakers more information about prison operations.
The letter to the governor cautioned there will be no quick or inexpensive, fix.
“The challenges we have inherited are multifaceted and complex. They are longstanding. And they will require spending significant sums of taxpayer money,” Lyons wrote.