DSC_0208 (2)by Katherine Robertson, Jay Neal and Jerry Madden

As leaders in the national conservative criminal justice movement, we have witnessed several states successfully implement more effective and efficient sentencing and corrections systems.

By adopting policies based on conservative principles — personal responsibility, fiscal discipline, and individual liberty — states including Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas have enacted policies proven to both
enhance public safety and minimize the cost to taxpayers. What these states have found is that the cycle of crime can be broken by implementing and expanding approaches aimed at nonviolent offenders, specifically through increased use of drug courts, access to mental health facilities, and by removing barriers to employment for ex-offenders, among others.


Today, Alabama is home to the highest prison crowding rate in the country, with prisons at 187 percent capacity.

Alabama is poised to follow the path forged by other conservative states in taking a smarter approach to operating its criminal justice system. And we are ready to help.

Like most states, Alabama’s prison system is one of the largest and fastest growing parts of the state budget. Yet, this system is not reducing re-offending commensurate with this growth in spending. Fortunately, momentum for change is building around the country and conservatives in other states have taken the lead in promoting sensible policies.

Today, Alabama is home to the highest prison crowding rate in the country, with prisons at 187 percent capacity. Without true reform, Alabama risks falling prey to federal court intervention, similar to California, where unelected judges order the release of thousands of prisoners from state lockups. These edicts ordering the haphazard release of inmates risk turning out dangerous offenders who pose a significant safety risk to their communities. But this does not have to be the story for Alabama; there is an alternative.

For example, Georgia, led by a conservative governor who is a former prosecutor, passed major adult and juvenile policy changes without a single opposition vote in the Legislature.

The consensus measure, developed with input from all stakeholders, is projected to improve public safety outcomes and reduce the prison population by prioritizing prison space for violent and dangerous offenders while strengthening probation and parole supervision and diverting more low-level drug offenders to drug courts. North Carolina developed and passed legislation during a period in which the North Carolina Legislature totally changed from one party to the other.

The legislation introduced significant changes in the state’s probation system without new funds, yet this and other changes have led to an almost 12 percent reduction in prison population. Texas, instead of building more prisons in 2007, implemented improvements to probation, parole, specialty courts, and in-prison treatment programs which have avoided more than $3 billion in prison costs. Most importantly, Texas’ crime rate is at its lowest since 1968.

Alabama’s leaders are at a crossroads, presented with the opportunity to make real positive change to their criminal justice system or continue on the current path. The high cost, low return system currently in operation can only last for so long. Leaders must act to improve and expand alternatives to incarceration for low-risk and nonviolent offenders to ensure that costly prison space is focused on those who pose a long-term threat to our public safety, not those we are simply mad at.

As Alabama looks to the future of its criminal justice system, it can turn to many existing resources. Recently, the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center joined with Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance to host a Prison Reentry Summit at Samford University. Now, Right on Crime, an initiative for conservative criminal justice reforms anchored by a statement of principles signed by luminaries such as Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Bennett, J.C. Watts, and Ed Meese, is joining with Alabama’s conservative think tank, the Birmingham-based Alabama Policy Institute, to help leaders address this important issue.

Alabama still has time to change its course. State leaders can choose to enact polices that have been proven to protect public safety while lowering the cost to taxpayers.


Katherine Robertson serves as senior policy analyst for the Alabama Policy Institute and is a former U.S. Justice Department employee; Jay Neal is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, serves on the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council, and authored legislation that created the council; and Jerry Madden is a former chairman of the Correction Committee of the Texas House of Representatives and author of many Texas’ reforms.

 


MORE ON Civil and Criminal Justice

Civil Asset Forfeiture “Has Created Serious Problems”

By Jason Snead, Policy Analyst in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation This week I had the privilege of meeting with some of Alabama’s leading lawmakers and policy experts to discuss an issue of urgent importance: protecting the property and due process rights of Alabamians by reforming […]

Juvenile Justice: A Broken System with Harmful Effects on Alabama’s Youth

A fourteen year old shoplifts cologne from a local Macy’s with hopes to impress his crush. Lacking the skills of an experienced criminal, he gets caught easily. Although perhaps warranting a fine and community service, he is instead processed as a criminal defendant and placed in a juvenile detention center. Here, he crosses paths daily […]

Here in Alabama, the government can legally take your stuff (AND NOT GIVE IT BACK)

Along Highway 31 in Conecuh County, Alabama, lies a small town called Castleberry. Although the city boasts a population of less than 600 and a single caution light, it has its own police department. To fund itself, the Castleberry Police Department takes advantage of speeding passers-by and writes them tickets. Nothing to see here. In […]

MORE FROM The Alabama Policy Institute

Our Evaluation of Michael Sentance

The Alabama State Board of Education will meet tomorrow in Montgomery for a special meeting abruptly called last week. The stated purpose is to evaluate Superintendent Michael Sentance. The rumored purpose is to fire him. We trust that the latter is just that—a rumor—as there is absolutely no justification for firing Mr. Sentance. Indeed, allow […]

API Joins National Coalition of Education Choice Advocates and Releases Letter Applauding Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Letter Encourages Trump Administration to Champion Constitutionally Focused Education Choice Agenda Yesterday, Alabama Policy Institute (API) joined 12 other leading state and national organizations in sending a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praising her outspoken commitment to parental choice in education. The letter outlines the importance of state-led efforts on education choice, emphasizing […]

Statement on the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act

The Alabama Pro-Life Coalition (APLC) commends Governor Kay Ivey for signing the Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act into law on May 3, 2017. By her signature, the rights of religion based adoption agencies are protected. APLC also commends the sponsors of the legislation, Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) and Representative Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa). Their understanding, […]