By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature gave final passage to a bill that requires those who are released early from prison to undergo mandatory electronic monitoring.
The week-long special session began with the possibility of two criminal justice bills passing but ended with just one making it to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. She signed it Friday afternoon.
House Bill 2 increases the number of inmates who could be released prior to the end of their sentences and placed under the supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. It includes an electronic monitoring requirement.
The bill passed with a final vote of 24-6, with all votes against coming from Republicans. Republican support for the bill continued to falter on the last day of the session as other state officials criticized it.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying he had concerns with the measure because of the possibility that it may give parole to more inmates labeled as “violent.”
Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, voted against the bill. He said after hearing the concerns from Marshall and district attorneys he simply could not support it.
“I have a problem in a special session dealing with prison construction to insert something where you’re asking members to let people out of jail early,” Elliott told ADN.
Democrats have said the sentencing reform discussed this week along with the construction of two mega-prisons is the bare minimum the GOP could offer. Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, asked his colleagues on the floor on Friday that when future bills concerning sentencing reform do come up, they are taken seriously.
Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said that Senate Republicans do want to keep working toward more rehabilitation measures in future sessions.
“We understand and know our extremely high recidivism rate in this state,” Scofield said. “So for taxpayers, that’s not really beneficial if we continue to have to re-incarcerate individuals.”
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said they would continue to address criminal justice reform pieces in the future but the new prisons are a good start.
“I would also point our attention to the fact that the prison bill itself is significant reform in regards to going from facilities that are unable to do the job to new facilities that will be very well equipped to accomplish their task,” Reed said.
Former senator and current director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole Cam Ward was at the State House on Friday and said he believes House Bill 2 is a good step forward.
“I think there is a real opportunity to have better supervision, increase public safety but also an opportunity to deal with the overcrowding problem,” Ward said.
Ward also explained that the mandatory electronic monitoring required in the bill would be paid for by the state and the amount of time someone is monitored would depend on a risk assessment analysis done to each parolee.
Ward also addressed the criticism that the parole board, which is separate from the bureau that he directs, has had a drastically low parole rate in recent years saying that the board is following statute set by the Legislature.
“If changes need to be made then the Legislature needs to change the law to dictate what criteria needs to be enforced in order to have them released or not,” Ward said.