MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives recently passed one bill that would change the way probation and parole violators serve their sentences. The fate of House bill 110 is now up to the Senate to decide if those offenders would no longer have to make the trip down south to serve out their sentence in state prison.
House Bill 110 was passed almost unanimously, with a vote of 99-2.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would allow those who violate their probation or parole to serve that 45-day sentence in county jail, instead of one of the state’s prisons.
It is intended to address a kind of gap in the way prisoners get credit for their sentences.
Bill sponsor Representative Jim Hill said there is a flaw in the way the law is now.
“They may stay in that county jail two, three, four weeks before they ever go to the penitentiary. When they get to the penitentiary, there’s not a mechanism to give them credit for time served,” Representative Hill said.
This change would not be new, just permanent.
Governor Kay Ivey signed an order last April to allow parole and probation violators to fulfill their entire sentence in county jails; no waiting for transport to the DOC. She did this to lighten the load on state prison populations during the pandemic.
Attorney Nick Lough says this has a been a positive change for his clients.
“The biggest thing that this legislation does from a criminal defense attorney standpoint is it gives us the clarity we’ve been looking for. Is 45 days really 45 days or is it something else? Before, it meant something else. If it passes, it means 45 is really 45,” Lough said. “I think that ‘s a good change at least from where I’m sitting and how my clients are going to be impacted by it.”
Madison County Corrections Chief Chad Brooks agrees the shorter sentence benefits the inmate, but he said the effects of that change would be need to monitored when it comes to inmate population.
“It is good for the inmate to stay here. It is difficult for us when it comes to healthcare considerations, housing and feeding concerns, safety concerns. The ability to move inmates through the facility, because as your population increases relative to total capacity, you lose the ability to move people around,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the Madison County jail currently houses over 1,000 inmates total. 316 of those are state inmates. 109 of the state prisoners are parole violators. Brooks did say county jails are allowed to deny taking in state prisoners if they are overcrowded. HB 110 would honor that agreement.
Care costs about $50 a day per person.
“We know about what it costs us to house that inmate on a daily basis. The amount that is proposed in HB 110 is less than half the amount that it would cost us to house those inmates, but it’s much better than what we’ve been getting in the past,” Brooks said.
The bill would also tie the DOC to covering a portion of medical costs as well. It is unclear if that is in-house or hospital visits, Brooks added.
Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong echoed Brooks’ take on costs.
“It is a huge burden financially to the Sheriff of Madison County. We’re spending somewhere around $19 million annually in our Metro jail to ensure the safety of the people of Madison County,” Chairman Strong said.
Strong did add the ideas presented in HB 110 are solid, especially when it comes to cutting transport down south, which is more than 200 miles away.
Strong prefers Senate Bill 36, which is similar, but would allow counties to decide on a holding facility to care for state prisoners. He does not oppose House Bill 110, he just does not think Madison County jail is the best option.
“It could benefit those counties that have extra space in their jails,” he said. “We’re not needing additional prisoners in the Madison County jail. We’re wanting to get them to the state prisons. If they do designate a state jail in proximity to Madison County, we’re open to that,” he said.
Representative Hill expects amendments to his bill while it makes its way through the Senate. He said he is open to counties working together to find the best place to house the inmates.