Hundreds of Alabama inmates who were set to be released from prison under a 2021 sentencing provision are still behind bars for the time being as the state’s corrections department works to notify the families of victims, as required by state law.
The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) announced Tuesday that it had begun releasing inmates to the supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (ABPP). The release was in accordance with an amendment to a 2015 law that mandated that inmates be released instead of staying in prison until the end date of their sentence.
About 80 inmates have been released so far, the ADOC said, noting that all of them were fitted with electric ankle monitors.
Under the 2021 amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, most inmates serving time would be required to complete their sentences under a period of supervised release, as opposed to leaving prison unsupervised once their time was up. Prior to the 2021 amendment, that law applied only to people convicted after the law was passed in 2015.
The intent was reportedly to help the former inmates adjust to the end of their incarceration. The law was passed with bipartisan support, with state GOP legislators arguing that supervision under the ABPP would reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Under the law, inmates sentenced to five years or less are to be released between three and five months ahead of their release date. Those serving sentences from five to 10 years must be released between six and nine months before the final date, and those serving sentences of 10 years or more can be released between 12 and 24 months prior to their end date.
Hill told Alabama Media Group on Monday that the policy benefits public safety because it places under supervision those who would otherwise simply be released.
“I think it gives us an ability to keep up with that individual,” Hill said of the inmates, adding that electronic monitoring is required and the former inmates would be subject to drug tests, home visits, and other conditions of parole.
The reforms came after a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department over Alabama’s treatment of incarcerated people. According to the DOJ, the ADOC failed to protect prisoners from violence and abuse from other inmates as well as excessive force by staff. The conditions, the DOJ said, violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, however, sued the ABPP over the releases, saying the policy poses a risk to public safety and complaining that families of victims hadn’t been notified.
In a statement, the ADOC acknowledged that it “has not released any inmate without compliance of the victim notice requirement act[.]”
“There will be a rolling release of the remaining eligible inmates as the required notifications are made by the ADOC,” the announcement said. The “automated release mechanism only applies to those inmates with offenses committed on or after Jan. 30, 2016,” the statement added.
A total of 369 inmates are expected to be released. According to a report from the Alabama Media Group, offenses committed by inmates awaiting release include murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, and sex offenses.
According to the ADOC, however, two types of prisoners will not be released: those convicted of a sex offense involving a child and those serving life sentences.
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