Alabama has some of the nation’s most complicated criminal justice laws. Sentencing guidelines, in particular, are what officials say make the process so complex. Straight sentences, split sentences, voluntary sentencing guidelines, the habitual offender law and enhancements are some of what makes the system so difficult to understand. The state’s sentencing structure has a huge impact on the prison population, which is at about 190 percent the capacity it was designed for.
A 24-member Prison Reform Task Force is working with the Council of State Governments Justice Center to analyze the system and find ways to reduce overcrowding, reduce recidivism and improve public safety, reports the Montgomery Advertiser. Andy Barbee of the justice center said Alabama’s switch last year to presumptive guidelines, which judges are required to use unless there’s a mitigating or aggravating factor to be considered, has accelerated a downward trend in the number of sentences to prison and the lengths of those sentences. Those guidelines, however, only apply to drug and theft cases. “At some point, the state will have to make a bigger investment in community services and supervision programming,” said Bennet Wright of the Alabama Sentencing Commission. “Matching offenders with the right services lowers the likelihood that they’ll commit more crimes.”