By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would require state inmates who work outside of the Alabama Department of Corrections facilities to wear electronic monitoring devices.
The bill passed with 99 yeas, no opposition and six abstentions, but lawmakers voiced concern over who ADOC allows to be on work release in general during discussion of the bill.
House Bill 151 from Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, would change existing law to say that inmates convicted of violent offenses will be subject to electronic monitoring.
State laws says the Alabama Department of Corrections can adopt rules for allowing inmates to leave prisons for work purposes.
The bill was amended to specifically define what qualifies as a violent offense. Simpson said the bill doesn’t include crimes like burglary, even though Alabama law says it’s a “violent offense.”
“That’s not what we’re trying to hit,” Simpson said. “We’re just trying to hit the real violent ones with this bill.”
Work release inmates are eligible to work for private civilian businesses in the community, can wear everyday street clothes and can work for a prevailing wage.
The ADOC also runs “work center programs” where inmates are required to wear white state uniforms and are eligible to work for local or state government entities. These inmates are not paid a prevailing wage.
Simpson’s bill would only cover those on work release and he said another bill would have to be brought forward to deal with those working in the work centers.
“We may have to come back and file a bill that attacks what the Department of Corrections is considering a work center, but this is a start,” Simpson said.
Rep. Alan Farley, R-McCalla, voiced frustration during discussion of the bill about ADOC’s qualifications for those in work release versus the work centers.
“I think we can build all of the prisons that we want to build and spend all the money that we can find, but if the Department of Corrections keeps making administrative orders… I think we have more problems in the department of corrections than just infrastructure,” Farley said.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said during discussion the need for this bill points out the deep-rooted problems in Alabama’s correctional system.
“We have to pass a law because a government agency is willfully violating (the Eighth Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment), meanwhile has us in the cross hairs of the federal government because of negligence, mismanagement and out right neglect,” England said. “…and we wonder why we have these issues.”
Simpson’s bill would require ADOC to pay for the monitoring. The fiscal note on the bill was increased last week to $2.9 million. A similar bill from Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has a fiscal note saying it would cost the department about $1.1 million.
As of December, there were 3,299 inmates at about a dozen minimum security work release and work centers around the state.
The ADOC’s 2018 annual statistical report lists 940 escapees. The majority of those were inmate escapes were from community corrections programs for non-violent offenders.
Community corrections programs vary from county to county. Some mandate inmates spend nights in jail and go to work, school or drug treatment during the day. Others are probation-type programs where inmates live at home and check in with officers daily. Some use electronic monitoring devices.
There were 19 escapes from ADOC facilities in 2018, according to monthly statistical reports. Twelve were from minimum security work release centers. In 2019, there were 24 listed escapes from ADOC, work release and work centers.
Simpson’s bill now heads to the Senate.
Alabama Daily News reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.