Alabama prison reform counsel sought by Arizona

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The architect of the Alabama Legislature’s recent prison reform overhaul, Republican Rep. Mike Jones of Andalusia, was invited by Arizona lawmakers to provide guidance as the Sunbelt state studies a similar slate of proposals.

According to a release from the office of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Jones spoke with Arizona policymakers including Joseph Cuffari, public safety advisor to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey; Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery; Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk; and state Sen. Adam Driggs, among others.

The meeting is a sign of policy cooperation between the two conservative-leaning states.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed SB 67 mandating the shift of some categories of nonviolent offenders out of the prison system into law in late May. The law also calls for more rehabilitation of inmates and aims to reduce the level of recidivism in Alabama as part of a larger national push for “smart justice,” as opposed to the traditional “tough-on-crime” regime popular until recently.

Those policies, including mandatory minimums and longer sentences for possession and distribution of drugs, for instance, have clogged the nation’s prison systems and left millions locked up for years longer than previous practices dictated.

The Alabama bill Arizona hopes to model will reduce Alabama’s prison population by some 4,200 inmates over the next five years, according to Sen. Cam Ward, who sponsored the bill in the Senate along as Jones helped maneuver it through the House.

It will help shed prisoners from the rolls by a creating new low-level felony classification, Class D, which will apply reduced punishments for some property and drug crimes. The bill will also increase the number of Alabama’s incarcerated who are supervised away from a prison or jail. Experts estimate there are 24,678 inmates being housed in a framework built for 13,318, taxing the existing capacity by nearly double.

“This is not the final end result,” Ward said to AL.com on the measure. “This is the first step in a long road we have ahead to fixing our corrections system.”

The bill came as violence, including a recent riot at St. Clair Correctional Facility, has gotten the attention of the Alabama public and state government. Lawmakers said their proactive approach will help avoid federal intervention into the matter.

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