ALABAMA MASS PRISON RELEASE: STATE FREEING 369 INMATES UNDER AMENDED 2015 LAW

By Scott Turner

(ABOVE) Inmates are shown resting on their bunks in Dorm B in Alabama’s Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County in this file photo. (Mike Cason)

The Alabama Department of Corrections will be releasing nearly 400 inmates statewide on Tuesday.

The mass release – which will put the early- release inmates under the supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles – stems from a bill passed by the state legislature in 2021.

That bill amended a law passed as part of prison reform efforts in 2015.

According to a notice obtained by AL.com from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and the Alabama Department of Corrections – which noted it was not to be released to the media – inmates will be released from correctional facilities around the state.

The notice was sent to law enforcement statewide.

The nature of offenses the 369 were convicted of range from possession of marijuana and theft to robbery and murder. The majority were set to end their sentences this year, many of them in the next few months.

Waiting at bus stations with ankle monitors

Each inmate will be processed by Pardons and Paroles and fitted with an electronic ankle monitor at the time of release.

“The law was passed in 2021 and we will follow it as it is written. We did not advocate for it, but until we are told otherwise by a judge, we will enforce

the law as written,” said Cam Ward, director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

“After processing, many released inmates will be picked up by friends or family at the facilities while others will be transported to the local bus stations,” the notice dated Jan. 27 reads.

“It is anticipated that the bus stations in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham areas will receive the largest number of inmates,” the notice states. “Depending on bus schedules, released inmates may be waiting at the bus stations for some time.”

The notice was intended “to ensure law enforcement agencies in these areas are aware” that recently released inmates “may necessarily congregate in these areas” until they are able to board buses to return to their counties of conviction.

According to the department’s November statistical report, the last report available from the Alabama Department of Corrections, there were 17,823 people incarcerated in ADOC facilities. The department is designed for just 12,115. Efforts to reach ADOC officials for comment were not immediately successful Monday morning.

The 369 people being released Tuesday are 2.07% of that latest Population count.
The release comes as the Department of Justice is suing the state over its prison conditions—a lawsuit filed in December 2020 following an investigation that started in 2016.

That case is ongoing, and a judge has told both sides to be ready for a non-jury trial in 2024.

The DOJ lawsuit alleges the ADOC fails to protect prisoners from inmate- on-inmate violence and sexual abuse, to protect them from excessive force by staff, and to provide safe conditions of confinement, which violates constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.

How we got here

Lawmakers passed the bill during the special session of the Legislature in September 2021 when they also approved construction of two 4,000-bed prisons for men.

Gov. Kay Ivey included the bill in her call for the special session focusing on prisons. It was one of the recommendations from a criminal justice policy group she appointed that issued a report in 2020.

The bill amended a law the Legislature passed as part of prison reform efforts in 2015.

That 2015 law required many inmates to complete their prison sentences under a period of supervised release with the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles instead of staying in prison to the final day of their sentence.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was a vocal opponent of the bill in 2021.

“This bill mandates the early release of dangerous individuals with only the possibility of electronic monitoring and without the assurance of other resources necessary to safely supervise those initially released,” Marshall said in 2021.

The law was to take effect Jan. 31, 2023, contingent on the state finance director certifying that the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles has the funds needed to implement it.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 77-23 and passed the Senate 24- 6. Republican lawmakers cast all the no votes.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, a former circuit judge in St. Clair County who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill.

Hill said today he believes the bill enhances public safety by monitoring those who would otherwise end their prison sentences within a year with no supervision.

He noted that electronic monitoring is required and said those under supervision can also be subject to drug tests, home visits, and other terms of parole.

“I think it gives us an ability to keep up with that individual,” Hill said.

“Most people that reoffend do so within a year after release. And I would like for us to do the best we can to prevent recidivism. And one way we do that is have them monitored and under supervision for a period of time after release from prison.”