Justice reform group blasts “fruitless” state prison reform bill

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Proponents, including Gov. Robert Bentley, have lauded the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act as a bold step toward real criminal justice reform.

But on Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Action Network slammed the bill in a memo to reporters, calling it a “fruitless course” that would simply raise costs.

“This bill does not fix Alabama’s prison overcrowding problem, but it will give taxpayers heartburn. Senate Bill 287 would trigger over $1.5 billion in costs and still leave the state with overcrowded correctional facilities,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of the national group. .

“We call on the Alabama House of Representatives to reject this plan and continue working on real reforms that provide a safer and more effective justice system,” said Harris.

The group says the bill is set to cost state taxpayers $1.5 billion, according to USJAN’s calculations.

The group’s work largely focuses on reducing prison populations.

The bill’s sponsor, Decatur Republican Sen. Trip Pittman, chairs the powerful Finance and Taxation General Fund committee.

The bill would also originally have enacted a moratorium on all executions until 2017, but that provision was struck from the bill in the Senate.

Other groups, including liberal-leaning Alabama Arise, have pushed for the creation of an Innocence Inquiry Commission to review death penalty cases. The group has not taken any formal stance on SB 287, but are supporting an alternative, SB 237.

An analyst for the group called such a move a “recognition of human frailty” in the state’s justice system, but such a provision does not exist in the bill currently circulated.

SB 237 has attracted support from some minority-party Democrats, including Mobile Sen. Vivian Figures and Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Montgomery.

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This article was updated on May 2 to clarify Arise Alabama’s stances and disambiguate SB 287 & SB 237.

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