Across the nation, there is a major problem with overcrowding in prisons. Alabama is by no means an exception to this problem, as Alabama’s particularly harsh sentencing laws can send people to state prison for extremely long periods of time, even when the severity of the crime does not warrant such a lengthy sentence.
According to a recent news report fromAL.com, the Alabama state senate has just approved a plan to decrease the prison population by reducing the punishment for certain criminal offenses. As our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers can explain, the Alabama state criminal code classifies crimes in various categories according to the perceived severity of the offense alleged.
The new bill is designed to reduce penalties for various nonviolent property crimes and drug charges. The bill is also designed to expand the probation, parole, and community corrections programs, so that more people are eligible for diversion programs rather than going to state prison.
One state senator describes this as a major step forward and is glad the senate is finally trying to work on a serious problem, which is often overlooked. This bill has not yet been approved by the Alabama state house, and it is believed there are some changes house members will make to the senate version of the bill. However, senators in support of this bill are still optimistic an acceptable version of the bill will pass in the house.
Under current Alabama criminal law, felonies are classified as either Class A, Class B or Class C. This proposed legislation would create a category known as a Class D felony.
Class D felonies would carry a sentence of between one and five in years in state prison. However, unlike other more serious felonies currently in existence, Class D felonies would not automatically be subject to the Habitual Felony Offender Act. Habitual offender laws allow a sentence to enhanced by previous offenses, so they would carry a longer mandatory minimum sentence in state prison.
Class D felonies could bring a prison sentence of 1 to 5 years but, unlike the other felonies, would not always be counted under the Habitual Felony Offender Act, which results in longer sentences. Some of these charges will include simple credit card theft, some possession of marijuana offenses, and other similar crimes.
While some might assume the senate is only doing this to reduce the prison budget, it should be noted this program is not without its own expenses. With the greater need for community supervision and parole programs, there will be a requirement to hire a significant number of officers at a cost of around $23 million. The state is still going forward with its plan to add thousands of more beds in prison over the next several years at cost of around $12 million.
It is important to remember that, regardless of the sentencing laws, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to fight for your rights during the entire process greatly increases your chances of having the best outcome possible within the confines of the situation.