Alabama Senate approves bill limiting good time incentives for prisoners

By: - March 24, 2023 7:00 am
Bars in a prison. A staircase can be seen behind them.

A prison corridor in Holman Correctional Facility in 2019. (File)

The Alabama Senate approved a bill Thursday that would make it more difficult for prisoners to reduce their sentences.

The legislation passed 30-1 in the Senate, amid criticism that the legislation would further contribute to overcrowding in the state’s prisons. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, voted against the bill.

Under current law, prisoners can earn correctional incentive time, or “good time,” to reduce their prison sentence. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, would reduce the amount of time inmates can earn off their sentences; increase the amount of time that a prisoner would need to qualify for good time; add to the occasions that a prisoner can lose their time and require the Department of Corrections to provide annual reports on correctional incentive time to the Legislature, Attorney General and Governor.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Montevallo, on Wednesday.

Both pieces of legislation came out of the shooting death of Bibb County Deputy Sheriff Brad Johnson in June. Austin Hall, the man charged in Johnson’s death, had been released under “good time” but had escaped from custody in 2019, according to the Associated Press. The escape should have led to the revocation of his good time credits, but Hall was released on bail after time in local jails.

“I believe he should have been behind bars on that day that he shot deputy Johnson,” Weaver said during debate on Thursday.

Weaver said Thursday that Johnson was shot near her house. 

“And the reason that this is important is when I started looking at the way that we did good time here in Alabama, that we talked about in committee, Alabama has the weakest good time laws in the country,” Weaver said.

Alabama’s prisons have been overcrowded for decades. In January, the system held 19,988 inmates in a system designed for 12,115, a capacity of 165%. The overcrowding has fueled physical and sexual violence that has led to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, which could result in the state losing control of all or part of its prison system. 

Singleton, the sole no vote, said that the bill would keep more people in prison longer even as the system struggles to handle the number of inmates in its walls. “And as you know, we’re currently on the federal court order for being overcrowded,” Singleton told Weaver.

Singleton attempted to substitute the bill, which did not succeed. He was able to get an amendment on that adds an exception to the bill so that an inmate will not lose all of their good time if they seriously injure someone in self-defense or if they engage in a civil protest. It also requires the commissioner of the Department of Corrections to include the number of days forfeited in his reports.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, had concerns about someone who could be a “model inmate” being thrown in the same “big old pot” as the people Weaver referred to in her description of the bill.

Dillon Nettles, the policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Alabama, which has joined lawsuits against state prisons, criticized the bill in a statement Thursday.

The only thing the Senate approved today was fewer incentives and more time spent in Alabama’s unconstitutional, overcrowded prisons for incarcerated people,” the statement said. 

The bill moves to the House of Representatives.


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.