State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) will be introducing a bill to postpone Alabama's mandatory release date for inmates to 2030, removing any retroactive benefits to inmates.
Elliot's proposed bill (SB7) comes on the heels of a lawsuit from Attorney General Steve Marshall attempting to block a mass release of 408 inmates on Tuesday due to the state's current mandatory release law.
Since 2021, Alabama's law on mandatory release requires inmates to be released three to 12 months before the end of their sentence, depending on the individual sentence. The only exceptions are life sentences and sexual crimes against children.
The mandatory release law was signed in 2015 and applied to any inmates sentenced after the bill was signed into law. In 2021, the compulsory release was retroactively applied to inmates before 2015 and was set to become official on Tuesday.
Elliot's bill, which is expected to be filed Tuesday, would strike the retroactive addition of 2021 and push the mandatory release date to 2030, meaning the only inmates eligible for mandatory release would be those incarcerated on or after Jan. 31, 2030.
"We put people in jail to protect the public," Elliott said to 1819 News. "Letting violent criminals out of jail early is contrary to public safety. While some may argue that it’s safer to let criminals out early so we can monitor them, the current reality in Alabama is that most criminals only serve a small fraction of their sentence. The monitoring in this flawed legislation could just as easily be a condition of other existing forms of early release."
"Early release on top of early release just puts the public in more danger," he continued. "While some legislators may have been led down this path in the throes of a special session, it is my hope that, as the reality of this legislation sets in, my colleagues will press the pause button, move the effective date back until 2030, and critically assess the true impact of this legislation on public safety."
The bill would leave all other provisions in the 2021 bill intact, changing only the timeline in which an inmate is eligible for early release.
On Monday, Marshall announced the lawsuit against Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Cam Ward and Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) commissioner John Hamm.
Marshall seeks a temporary restraining order on the release, claiming ADOC has failed to notify victims properly, as is required by the 2021 law.
Elliot's bill will become effective immediately after it's signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. Depending on the urgency of the legislature, it could be a swift process or be held up in debate in both chambers.
ADOC has been at the forefront of national discussion surrounding prisons. A federal lawsuit against the state by the Department of Justice due to prison conditions, dwindling staff, overcrowding, drugs, violence and general dilapidation of prison facilities has been a perpetual black eye for ADOC.
In late 2021, the legislature voted to use federal COVID-19 relief money to build additional prisons to fix the massive overcrowding within Alabama penitentiaries. However, the first facility is not expected to be functional until 2026.
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