Chief justice: Reduce non-violent prisoners

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb yesterday told Alabama legislators they’ll receive legislative proposals that would change Alabama’s drug laws and create a new Class D felony classification, in effect reducing the number of non-violent offenders who end up in state prisons.

Cobb, who spoke to a joint session of the legislature Tuesday afternoon, said that Alabama does not adequately fund corrections, yet quadrupled the money spent on corrections from 1988 to 2008, when corrections costs totaled $577 million.

“Let me be absolutely clear: we must lock up violent and serious offenders for lengthy sentences so they cannot continue to harm innocent people,” she said. “However, where nonviolent offenders are concerned, there is an alternative to the costly cycle of crime, incarceration and reoffending.”

The chief justice said, “We need to be certain we are locking up those of whom we are afraid, not just those with whom we are mad.”

Cobb praised the work of the Public Safety and Sentencing Coalition established by the legislature in 2010. The group, which includes judges, district attorneys, defense attorneys, Pardons and Paroles, law enforcement and victims’ advocates, has conducted a detailed analysis of the state’s prison system, which shows that the current state prisons are at 90 percent of capacity. A significant number of inmates, she said, are not violent offenders.

“The number one offense for admission in DOC was possession of receipt of a controlled substance,” she said, adding that distribution of a controlled substance, third-degree burglary and possession of marijuana also are among the top 10 reasons for incarceration.

As a result, she said, the coalition has endorsed legislative proposals that would, among other things:

• create a new Class D felony classification and the reclassify certain drug and property offenses as Class D felonies;

• revising the valuation threshold for property offenses;

• restructure and reclassify offenses involving marijuana and controlled substances;

• establish a compliance incentive credit for probationers who comply with the conditions of probation so probation officers may focus limited resources on probationers who need more intense supervision.


• mandate re-entry supervision for offenders incarcerated with DOC and near the end of their sentence; and

• amend Alabama’s driver’s license suspension law to remove certain drug-related offenses to assist participants in drug court and other rehabilitative programs in mobility.

The proposed legislation is expected to be presented to the legislature in the next two weeks.