BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) - Many prosecutors unhappy with Alabama’s new sentencing guidelines meant to cope with an overcrowded prison system. The guidelines went into effect Oct. 1.
Judges and prosecutors say the state sentencing guidelines are too lenient and are expressing concerns about the fact that individuals convicted of multiple “non-violent” felonies will no longer face mandatory jail time under the guidelines, which are aimed at reducing the inmate prison population.
They require judges and prosecutors use a worksheet system to calculate whether an offender should be sentenced to state prison or probation and, if sentenced to prison, how long the term should be.
Those found guilty of non-violent felonies will be assigned a score, and the number of prior felony convictions, including counts, will be calculated. Now, sentencing will be solely determined based on that score.
Offenses like theft, forgery, drug crimes, breaking and entering vehicles and receiving stolen property are considered non-violent crimes under the guidelines.
Burglary and drug trafficking charges are not on the list, but Alabama’s habitual offender laws that led to long sentences after two or more prior felonies will no longer automatically result in decades-long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Sentencing procedures for felony offenses considered violent crimes like murder, rape, assault and burglary will remain unchanged.
The Alabama District Attorneys Association has been openly critical of the guidelines and is working on proposed amendments to them.
The sentencing commission points to the state’s costs to house and feed inmates and prison overcrowding as an economic driver of sentencing reform.
Supporters of the guidelines report Alabama state prisons were built to accommodate 14,000 inmates, but they hold 28,000, according to a report by the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based private, non-profit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners.
They add Alabama spends only $26 a day per prisoner; the national average is $62. They say Alabama spends the least of any state in the country on medical care for inmates.
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