Robert Bentley testifies before Congress on Alabama prison reforms

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Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday testified before a U.S. House panel on the topic of recent reforms in the Alabama statehouse designed to limit long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and increase inmate rehabilitation efforts, to reduce rates of recidivism and the high cost of housing the state’s incarcerated population.

In a statement shortly after a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Bentley touted Alabama’s reforms as a model for the nation.

“Prison reform is an important issue in Alabama,”  Bentley said. “Alabama has made significant progress over the last year to improve our criminal justice system, ease some of the challenges in our prison system and maximize the amount of state dollars we spend for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

“I believe that our prison reform efforts have created a healthy foundation that can, over time, transform the landscape of the entire criminal justice system for the better.”

Alabama, in turn, is following suit on a larger national push for “smart justice,” involving changes to federal sentencing guidelines, a move away from mandatory minimums to give more discretion to judges and focusing on giving former inmates viable alternatives away from criminal activity.

Bentley praised congressional leaders for opening its doors to state leaders like him, invoking the old saw about states being the “laboratories of democracy.”

“States can be laboratories of changes, creating unique opportunities that can address problems. I believe that Alabama is a national model for prison reform, and it was an honor to share our efforts with Congress,” Bentley said in a prepared statement.

The move comes just a day after legislative leaders in Arizona called on Alabama Rep. Mike Jones for counsel on the changes he helped institute along with Sen. Cam Ward during the regular Legislative Session.

Jones said on the occasion of his visit to the Grand Canyon state that he, too, hopes Alabama’s recent amendments to its criminal code can help show a way forward for a nation whose prison system is clogged with nonviolent offenders.

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