Paul DeMarco: Alabama citizens and crime victims deserve real accountability for failures in state criminal justice system

This past week Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that the state of Alabama would pay the family of slain Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson $1 million. The Governor made it clear the payment was due to fundamental flaws in the state’s correctional incentives “good time” law that allows felons an early release from prison. In this case, the suspect Austin Patrick Hall had a lengthy criminal history, including for violent acts, and was let out of prison early despite an escape attempt. He should have never been out of prison when Deputy Johnson was murdered. He actually had no less than 46 prior charges on his criminal record.  This is not the first time the state has paid out such payments to crime victims. After three Marshall County residents were murdered in 2018, the state paid out the maximum amount from the Fund because of a wrongful parole of the man that murdered the victims. These crimes were all preventable, and the families have suffered because of bad decisions made by those in the Alabama Criminal Justice System.  Both nationally and even in Alabama, progressive advocacy groups and media, along with their lobbyists, try to push a narrative that has no basis in reality nor is desired by the state’s citizens. Public safety is neither a partisan nor racial issue, nor is it more important to those that live in rural and suburban areas as opposed to urban communities. Thus, these calls for opening up the prison doors and lobbyist pressure on legislators to weaken the state code fall on deaf ears. Rather, it is just the opposite; people have high expectations that their state leaders will pay attention to the increasing number of crime victims and the high recidivism rates. The revolving doors of state jails and the prison system is a problem that has to be addressed.  And where is the accountability to the crime victim’s families and the citizens of the state for the decisions that allowed the release of these violent felons? There needs to be real accountability for those that allowed these violent felons to be released and resulted in the commission of heinous violent acts.  It will be a true failure to these crime victims if no one in state government is held responsible for these poor decisions. Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and can be found on Twitter @Paul_DeMarco.

State to pay $1 million to the daughters of slain Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson

Governor Kay Ivey announced on Wednesday that the State of Alabama will pay $1 million* – the maximum amount allowable under State law – to the two daughters of Bibb County Deputy Sheriff Bradley Johnson, who was fatally shot in the line of duty just over a year ago by dangerous career criminal Austin Patrick Hall. “Fundamental flaws in Alabama law granting correctional incentive ‘good time’ to inmates failed Deputy Johnson and his family,” said Gov. Ivey. “On January 9, I issued an executive order to halt the deficiencies in correctional good time that allowed inmates reduced prison sentences and early release despite records of violent behavior and escape.”  On June 29, 2022, Deputy Johnson and his colleague, Deputy Chris Poole, were investigating a stolen car that Hall was driving. Hall had only been recently released from prison. Johnson and Poole were each struck by gunfire. After a 16-hour manhunt, Hall was taken into custody and charged in the case. Deputy Poole recovered from his gunshot wounds. Deputy Johnson passed away from his injuries the following day. The Alabama Legislature prioritized legislation during the past regular session, further limiting who can be released on good time.  “On April 14, I was also proud to sign into law SB1, which codifies further reforms to correctional good time to ensure that convicted felons no longer access loopholes in the law to threaten law enforcement and the public,” Ivey said. “Alabama stands behind our law enforcement personnel, and we must do all we can to ensure they are afforded every protection under the law to safely do their jobs.” On June 16, 2023, Austin Patrick Hall was indicted on three counts of Capital Murder in the death of Deputy Johnson, one count of Attempted Murder, and one count of Discharging a Firearm into an Occupied Automobile. Poole and Johnson were awarded the Alabama Law Enforcement Medal of Honor for their pursuit of Hall. To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

AG Steve Marshall applauds Senate passage of gang legislation

On Wednesday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement applauding the state Senate’s passage of legislation that would crack down on gang members who commit felonies and which would try some youthful offenders as adults if their crimes were gang-related. Senate Bill 143 (SB143) is sponsored by State Senator Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road). As written, SB143 provides penalty enhancements for felonies committed to further the interests of any criminal enterprise, attaches a mandatory minimum sentence to the possession or use of a firearm during the commission of certain crimes, and certifies individuals aged 16 and older as adults when charged under the Act. “My Office worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement to develop the Gang Prevention Act, as we continue to see the proliferation of violent street groups in too many of our communities,” said Attorney General Marshall. “Gang violence is a cancer, and tough sentences are the antidote. I applaud the Senate for moving forward with this legislation and prioritizing the safety of our citizens.” As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Alabama, Marshall is advocating for the Alabama Gang Prevention Act and the recently passed Deputy Brad Johnson Act dealing with correctional incentive time. In April, 162 Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police from across the state called on the legislature to pass the Alabama Gang Prevention Act. The original legislation was heavily amended on the Senate floor, The amended version of the bill defines “CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE” as “Any combination, confederation, alliance, network, conspiracy, understanding, or other similar arrangement in law or in fact, including a street gang as defined in Section 13A-6-26, of three or more persons, through its membership or through the agency of any member, that engages in a course or pattern of criminal activity.” A “CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE MEMBER” is defined as “An individual who meets three or more of the following: a. Admits to criminal enterprise membership. b. Is voluntarily identified as a criminal enterprise member by a parent or guardian. c. Is identified as a criminal enterprise member by a reliable informant. d. Adopts the style of dress of a criminal enterprise. e. Adopts the use of a hand sign identified as used by a criminal enterprise. f. Has a tattoo identified as used by a criminal enterprise. g. Associates with one or more known criminal enterprise members. h. Is identified as a criminal enterprise member by physical evidence. i. Has been observed in the company of one or more known criminal enterprise members four or more times. Observation in a custodial setting requires a willful association. This paragraph may be used to identify criminal enterprise members who recruit and organize in jails, prisons, and other detention settings. j. Has authored any communication indicating responsibility for the commission of any crime by a criminal enterprise.” SB143 has strong bipartisan support, passing 32 to 0 in the Alabama Senate. Gangs are terrorizing schools, parks, young people, and businesses across many parts of Alabama. It now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives for their consideration. The House has assigned SB143 to the House Judiciary Committee. It will be considered by the Committee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Room 423 of the Statehouse. The House Judiciary Committee has already voted to advance similar legislation in the House – House Bill 191. HB191 was killed when the House of Representatives would not consider it on the House floor on Thursday. Wednesday will be Day 28 of the 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. The regular session is limited to no more than 30 legislative days. To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

Legislature awards Law Enforcement Medal of Honor

On Thursday, two Bibb County deputies were awarded the Alabama Law Enforcement Medal of Honor for their successful pursuit of a dangerous career criminal. Deputies Brad Johnson and Chris Poole engaged in a high-speed pursuit of Austin Hall. After crashing the stolen car, Hall engaged the officers in a deadly gun battle. Both officers were shot in the gun battle with Hall. Officer Johnson was declared dead the next day. House Resolution 181 reads: “COMMENDING DEPUTY BRAD JOHNSON AS A RECIPIENT FOR THE 2023 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE MEDAL OF HONOR FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT. WHEREAS, it is with highest commendation that we recognize Deputy Brad Johnson as a recipient of the 2023 Alabama Legislative Medal of Honor for Law Enforcement, Alabama’s highest law enforcement award for extraordinary courage in the line of duty; and  WHEREAS, on June 29, 2022, Deputy Chris Poole initiated the pursuit of a vehicle that was reported stolen in Calera and driven by a 26-year-old felon, who had been arrested on 46 criminal charges since the age of 17; at periods during the pursuit, speeds exceeded 100 miles per hour; and  WHEREAS, the driver lost control of the vehicle and began firing gunshots towards Deputy Poole, who reported on his radio that he had been shot and urged Deputy Johnson, who had joined the pursuit, to back off because of the continuing gunfire; and  WHEREAS, Deputy Johnson, who was determined to provide support for Deputy Poole, arrived at the scene, began firing, and placed two shots through the windshield; as Deputy Johnson stepped onto the side rail of his Sheriff’s Department vehicle, he successfully fired two additional rounds before sustaining a gunshot wound as well; both deputies were transported by police escort to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, where Poole was treated and released, and Johnson was placed on life support, which was removed the following day; and WHEREAS, Deputy Brad Johnson was pronounced dead shortly after 3:15 P.M. on June 30, 2022; andWHEREAS, for his bravery on June 29, 2022, and for the events that followed, Deputy Brad Johnson, is highly honored and deserving of the 2023 Legislative Medal of Honor; now therefore, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, That we hereby recognize and honor the late Deputy Brad Johnson as recipient of the 2023 Legislative Medal of Honor for Law Enforcement and by copy of this resolution prepared in honor and tribute, we commend his memory to the citizens of Alabama.” House Resolution 179 is the resolution honoring Deputy Poole. Poole was present with his family, as was the family of the late Deputy Johnson and members of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department. The Law Enforcement Medal of Honor is awarded annually by the Legislature. Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth told the members of law enforcement present for the joint session: “On behalf of the people of Alabama, we appreciate what you do to keep Alabama safety.” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed said, “When we are at our worse, they are at their best.” Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter said, “What an honor it is to be here today in the presence of greatness.” “We pray for you, and we pray that God puts his protection around you,” Ledbetter added. “Thank you for your service and what you do for our state.” Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor thanked the Legislature for giving this annual award and credited former State Rep. Howard Sanderford for starting this, “and thank you for keeping it going.” “What yall do every day is absolutely incredible for the people of Alabama,” Taylor told the officers. “We appreciate you more than you now.” Rep. Rex Reynolds said, “In Alabama, we stand with law enforcement.” Reynolds warned, “The law enforcement profession is under attack.” Reynolds said that since he was 17, Hall had been charged with 49 prior offenses prior to his violent encounters with Deputies Poole and Johnson. Hall had been released from prison just days prior on good time, even though he had other charges pending in the courts. Alabama Today asked if Hall should have been out of prison last June. “That was the basis for Senator [April] Weaver’s bill,” Reynolds said. That bill significantly curtailed good time sentence reductions awarded by prison wardens. Reynolds said that a similar situation occurred with the Huntsville police officer who was killed earlier this year. Reynolds is the former Huntsville Chief of Police. The awards ceremony occurred during a special joint session of both Houses of the Alabama Legislature. To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

Susan Dubose briefs Birmingham Young Republicans on Legislative session

The Greater Birmingham Young Republicans (GBYR) met on Thursday in Vestavia Hills to hear State Representative Susan Dubose discuss legislation being considered by the Alabama Legislature during the ongoing 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. GBYR President Stephanie Petelos said that Dubose is a first-term member of the Alabama House and is the former head of the North Shelby County Republican Women, which meets monthly to full meetings at a country club. It was announced at the meeting that a Shelby County Young Republicans chapter is being organized. “I am excited about the Shelby County chapter,” Dubose said. “I represent District 45, which includes parts of Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair Counties.’ Dubose said the legislation to ban holding a cell phone while driving, essentially requiring hands-free devices, is likely dead for the session. “That was tabled,” Dubose said. “There were problems with that bill. It got too much overreach for me. I don’t think it is coming back.” “I passed my first bill out of committee,” Dubose said. “It is a women’s sports protection bill. It is to protect women college athletes.” “It passed unanimously,” Dubose said. “It (House Bill 261) will be on the House floor on Tuesday.” “April Weaver is running it through the Senate so it could become law,” Dubose said. “The attorney general really wants this passed.” “I am working on an age of majority law,” Dubose said. “14-year-olds are allowed to make medical decisions,” Dubose explained, saying that the age limit should be raised and that parents should be able to have the final say on their children’s medical decisions. “I would like to eliminate the grocery tax,” Dubose said. “Anthony Daniels is for it.” Dubose said, “It is not an exact loss.” Dubose explained that when you give that four percent back to the people, they are going to spend it on other things we collect sales taxes on. “I am a big believer in supply-side economics that Reagan did.” “One of the votes that we had, Vestavia Hills came to our county delegation,” Dubose said. “They wanted to raise their ad valorem taxes by 9.8 mills. They are very proud of their school system there. Many people move to Vestavia for the schools. Our entire Jefferson County Delegation voted yes unanimously.” Dubose told Alabama Today, “Regarding Vestavia Hills, the Vestavia Hills city council unanimously supports letting their residents vote on the 9.8% increase in ad valorem tax. Our Jefferson County House of Representatives delegation voted unanimously by voice vote to move the bill to the floor of the House, where it passed. I believe the people of Vestavia Hills should have a right to vote and make decisions for their own community. Vestavia Hills has a reputation for excellent schools. As a legislative body, we have given the residents the opportunity for a yes or no vote on the property tax increase.” “Another vote where I got real criticism for was the adoption bill,” Dubose said. Dubose said the criticism was for voting down an amendment to the bill that would have blocked any vaccine requirements for adoptive or foster parents. “That should be a personal choice, but that amendment came up at the last minute,” Dubose said.  The Senate did add a vaccination amendment when that legislation passed on Thursday. The House will consider Senate changes to the bill as soon as Tuesday. “I do not believe in COVID vaccine mandates at all. That should be a personal choice,” Dubose told Alabama Today. “I voted to table the amendment on the floor because we didn’t have time to research the amendment and vet any unintended consequences. I am happy to hear that the Senate did pass the adoption bill with a slightly different amendment so that an option with exemptions from vaccines will be available for potential parents. I will happily support the adoption bill when it comes back to the House with the vaccine exemption amendment.” “That particular bill was not taking amendments on it at all,’ Dubose explained. “I knew it was going to fail. I try to vote with the Speaker when I can. “ Dubose said the House passed legislation limiting good time incentives for Alabama prisoners. “Bibb County deputy Brad Johnson was shot and killed by a felon who had been out of prison only three days after serving only a third of his sentence,” Dubose said. “Russell Bedsole carried that in the House, and then April Weaver carried that in the Senate.” “Dubose said that the Legislature also voted to outlaw exhibition driving. “This is something that the Mayor of Birmingham and the Mayor of Hoover asked us to support,” Dubose said. “We have had 16 persons and a baby killed by a Dodge Charger that was doing donuts with a crowd watching.” Dubose said the state’s economic incentives were renewed and passed out of the House on Thursday. “Surrounding states are spending a lot of money on incentives,” Dubose explained. “I support the economic incentive package “The Game Plan” proposed by our governor,” Dubose said. “This passed out of the House on Thursday.”  “Where are our workers going to come from,” Dubose said of the state’s labor force participation rate. “Only 56.7% of people are in the labor force. We need them to come back to work.” “I do still worry about our workforce participation rate in Alabama, which keeps going down,” Dubose said. Dubose said the Legislature also passed DRAM shop reform legislation so that bars and restaurants that serve alcohol can get liability insurance for when a person leaves their premises and is intoxicated and is involved in a wreck. Dubose said that the Legislature also passed legislation to guarantee that patients of hospitals and nursing homes would be able to receive visitors in the future. “During COVID, so many people died alone,” said Dubose. “The bill sponsor, Debbie Wood – We sit next to each other, and she explains everything to me. Her mother actually starved to death in a nursing home.” Dubose said patients “can appoint a designated person who can visit two hours a day even if there is a crisis situation.” Dubose

Alabama House passes bill to cut back ‘good time’ incentives for inmates

On Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would decrease the amount of time inmates of Alabama’s prisons can get reduced from their sentences for good behavior while incarcerated. It also further limits which prisoners are eligible for good time incentives. Senate Bill 1 (SB1) – the Deputy Brad Johnson Act – is sponsored by State Sen. April Weaver. The legislation was carried in the House by State Rep. Russell Bedsole. SB1 is titled in remembrance of Bibb County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Johnson – who was gunned down by a dangerous felon released by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) on good time. Bedsole – a Shelby County Deputy – said that passage of SB1 would make Alabama communities safer. “We know that we can’t totally solve crime in our communities. Just incarceration alone is not the answer.” SB1 reduces the number of reductions in sentences served that a prisoner can earn for good behavior, further limits the number of prisoners eligible for good time incentives, and requires ADOC to make reports on the application of good time incentives. “The reporting will come back to the legislature,” Bedsole explained. “We are not putting a mandate on them to go out and buy new reporting software.” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said that the abuses in the system occurred during the previous ADOC leadership. “It is not fair to hold the current leadership responsible for the failings of the past leadership,” Daniels said. State Rep. Phillip Pettus told Bedsole, “I appreciate what you have done on this. I hope that we don’t have another picture up here of another law enforcement officer up here.” State Rep. John Rogers called the bill “Overkill.” Rogers said the real problem is the lack of rehabilitation of prisoners in ADOC custody. “You have countries all over the world that rehabilitate prisoners, but we do not do it here in Alabama,” Rogers said. “Why would you punish the entire system? I hope that you pull this bill.” “You have got one guard for every 200 prisoners,” Rogers said. “We have had four women get pregnant in prison in a women’s prison. How does a woman get pregnant in all women’s prison?” “We need new prisons, but you have to have money to pay guards a decent wage,” Rogers said. Bedsole said, “Did you know that a person who commits a murder in prison can still get good time?” Rep. Christopher England said, “For 100 and some years, Democrats controlled the Legislature. You know one thing that Democrats absolutely screwed up? Prisons and justice. Then Republicans got in there. For six years, we created class D felonies – everybody doesn’t like that now – Community corrections, drug courts, and we worked on releasing prisoners. You know what happened? Crime went down, and the number of prisoners went down. We had a horrible tragedy happen in Marshall County (the Jimmy Spencer slayings of three people while on parole). In November 2019, we reformed the parole system. Now we aren’t letting anybody out. The new Republicans that are here have completely unraveled how we deal with prisons. The prison population has also skyrocketed. You know what also happened: crime skyrocketed. Now it has gotten to the opposite extreme where we don’t let anybody out. The parole board is only giving parole to ten percent of prisoners eligible for parole.” “You know what else has happened – crime has gone up,” England said. “We need all the space and resources we can get, and we are wasting it on people who are no danger to the community.” England said that releasing prisoners on parole where they are under supervision is better than waiting for the end of their sentence and then releasing them with no supervision requirements. “Over 90% of the people that go into the prison system get out,” England said. “Would you rather them get out with supervision or with no supervision?” Rep. A.J. McCampbell said, “As a former law enforcement officer, we recognize that every day we are putting our lives on the line. I hate what happened to Officer Johnson. I really do.” “We have got a lot of calamity and failure of our whole (prison) system,” McCampbell continued. “We don’t have any real solutions.” “It is unreal how many people have been denied,” McCampbell said. “Parole is supposed to be at a time where we have an opportunity to look at people while they are out in the community.” “The mistreatment that they receive in these institutions dehumanizes these people,” said Rep. Mary Moore. Bedsole said that SB1, “Revises our good time statute that has been in place since 1980. We are changing the amount of good time days we are offering. We are lowering them.” After a lengthy debate, the House of Representatives passed SB1. As it has already passed the Senate, it now has gone to the Governor’s office for her consideration. According to the synopsis, SB1 would, “Reduce the amount of correctional incentive time a prisoner receives; to require a prisoner to remain in a certain classification for a longer period of time before moving up to a higher classification; to provide for additional circumstances in which a prisoner may be required to forfeit his or her correctional incentive time; and to require the Department of Corrections to provide annual reports to the Legislature, the Governor, and the Attorney General regarding correctional incentive time. Thursday will be day 10 of the 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. The Alabama Constitution limits the Legislature to no more than thirty legislative days during a regular session. To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

Lawmakers vote to rein in use of good behavior incentives

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Alabama inmates could see more time behind bars under a bill approved Thursday in the Alabama Senate that restricts the use of good behavior incentives to shorten prison stays. Senators voted 30-1 for the bill that now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. The legislation is named after a slain Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson. Johnson was killed in 2022 by a man law enforcement officials said was released after serving four years of a 10-year theft sentence. “I think that our number one focus is making sure that bad people that are supposed to be in prison, stay in prison,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said. While supporters said the change is needed to avoid a repeat tragedy, opponents argued the change would worsen Alabama’s ongoing prison crisis by adding to overcrowding. “If signed into law, SB1 will only agitate an already chaotic and violent system that is harming all Alabamians, including the lives of people incarcerated and correctional staff,” Dillon Nettles, the policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said. Alabama law now allows certain inmates sentenced to 15 years or fewer to earn up to 75 days of credit for every 30 days of good behavior. The Senate-passed bill reduces the rate that inmates accrue “good time” credit and also says inmates who commit certain offenses while in prison, including escape, would be disqualified from early release. Most Alabama inmates are ineligible for the incentives because of their sentence length or conviction. An estimated 12% of inmates are eligible. “The man that killed Deputy Johnson was released on good time. I believe he should have been behind bars on that day,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. April Weaver of Brierfield said. The shooting happened not far from Weaver’s driveway, and the senator’s husband, an emergency room physician, rushed to try to save him. Austin Hall, the man accused of killing Johnson and shooting another deputy, had been released early from a 10-year prison sentence for theft, despite escaping from a work release center in 2019. The issues surrounding Hall’s release are complicated. He never returned to state prison custody after he was recaptured so he never had a disciplinary hearing to revoke his good time credit, a prison system spokeswoman said this summer. Court records show he was held in county jails and eventually allowed to be released on bond for the other charges he faced, according to court records. Hall now faces capital murder charges for Johnson’s death. Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.

Alabama bill would limit prison release for good behavior

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Incentives for some Alabama prisoners to follow the rules in order to secure an early release would be restricted under legislation that advanced in the state Senate on Wednesday. The bill slashes the amount of “good time” inmates can receive and also says inmates who commit certain offenses while in prison, including escape and sexual assault, would forfeit all of their accrued time and would be prohibited from earning any more. The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-4 on Wednesday to advance the bill to the full Alabama Senate, which could be voted on as soon as Thursday. Some lawmakers argued that although changes are needed, the legislation is an overcorrection and would worsen the crowded conditions in the state’s prison. About 12% of state prisoners are now eligible for “good time” incentives. Certain inmates sentenced to 15 years or fewer can earn up to 75 days of credit for every 30 days of good behavior. The bill is named after Brad Johnson, a sheriff’s deputy in Bibb County who was shot and killed in 2022. Austin Hall, the man accused of killing Johnson and shooting another deputy, had been released early from prison under good time incentives, despite escaping from a work release center in 2019. Hall served less than four years of a nearly 10-year sentence for theft, according to state records. “His killer should have been behind bars,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. April Weaver. The Republican from Brierfield addressed the committee while holding a photo of the slain deputy. Johnson was shot not far from Weaver’s driveway, and the senator’s husband, an emergency room physician, rushed to try to save him. Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham said good behavior incentives encourage prisoners to follow orders — otherwise, they “would have nothing to lose.” “This bill is going considerably overboard to address an individual problem we need to look at and correct,” Smitherman said. The committee rejected a suggestion by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore to delay the implementation date. Albritton said most prisons consist of crowded dormitory-style housing in which inmates sleep in large open rooms filled with beds. “We don’t have room for people,” Albritton said. Hall, the suspect in the deputy’s shooting, could have had his good time credit revoked for the 2019 escape, but he never returned to state custody afterward, the Corrections Department said in an email last year. Instead, he was held in local jails and eventually released on bond. He has been charged with capital murder for Johnson’s killing and is being held without bond. Gov. Kay Ivey issued an executive order in January putting uniform rules on the use of good time and seeking better communication among law enforcement agencies. Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.

Nathaniel Ledbetter supports April Weaver’s limits on good time bill

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On Thursday, the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Nathaniel Ledbetter, announced his support for legislation imposing further limitations on “good time” incentives for prisoners to get an early release. The legislation is sponsored by State Sen. April Weaver. It would limit and reduce inmates’ access to good time incentives. “Every so often, a tragic event reveals a flaw that needs to be corrected, and the loss of Deputy Brad Johnson and the wounding of Deputy Chris Poole offers strong evidence that Alabama’s system of awarding good time credit is broken and needs to be repaired,” Ledbetter said “Alabama is no place for serious crimes, and our prisons often reward dangerous criminals for bad behavior. I commend Senator April Weaver for introducing the Deputy Brad Johnson Act,” Ledbetter added. “I’m confident it will find a welcome reception in the Alabama House.” “Good time, formerly known as “correctional incentive time,” was originally designed to encourage an inmate to behave while in custody, improve themselves in prison, and respect the orders and authority of correctional officers,” Weaver. “Ultimately, it was a tool to help improve the safety of our correctional officers who work in environments that are inherently dangerous and often unforgiving.” Weaver continued, “In Alabama, the law allows inmates to have up to 75 days removed from their prison sentence for every 30 days served, meaning that prisoners can serve less than one-third of their sentence.” Currently, Alabama law allows inmates sentenced to 15 or fewer years in prison to receive “good time” behavior incentives to reduce their time in prison. Murders, rapists, and child predators are prohibited from qualifying for good time already. Only about 9% of state inmates were eligible for these incentives, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission. The Legislature passed the Nick Risner Act last year to make people convicted of manslaughter ineligible for good time. That bill was named for Sheffield Police Officer Nick Risner, who was killed in a gun battle with a murder suspect who had previously been convicted of manslaughter in the death of his father but who had gotten out early due to good time. Whether or not an inmate received good time has been left to the prison wardens. Due to several recent incidents, including the Johnson slaying, Gov. Kay Ivey has imposed new rules for giving inmates good time. “Our actions today, very simply put, keep violent offenders off the street, incentivizes inmates who truly want to rehabilitate and better themselves, reinforces the concept that bad choices have consequences, and keeps our public safe,” Ivey said. Not everyone supports further limiting good time. The Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is campaigning against what they call “mass incarceration.” Carla Crowder is the executive director of Alabama Appleseed. Crowder told the Associated Press that Ivey’s executive order “essentially ends good time or makes it extremely difficult for anyone to earn it given the brutal conditions across the prison system.” “This is absurd and reflects state leadership that is completely out of touch with the public safety crisis in Alabama prisons,” Crowder said. “t would be laughable, if it weren’t so sad and dangerous, that anyone believes harsher punishments will fix this crisis and make anyone safer.” Alabama is one of the most violent states in the country. The vast majority of the people in the Alabama prisons are violent offenders and/or career repeat offenders. That said, the state has chronically underfunded the Alabama Department of Corrections. Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded and, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), are understaffed and the most violent in the country. The DOJ is suing the state, claiming that imprisonment in ADOC constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The state’s aged, overcrowded prison facilities, chronic underfunding, and inability to properly staff ADOC makes it possible that the federal courts could side with the DOJ. If that happens, a mass release of thousands of dangerous inmates is a real possibility. Ledbetter was chosen as the new Speaker of the House in January’s organizational session of the Legislature. With the support of the Speaker of the House, it appears that this bill may be on the fast track toward passage. The 2023 Alabama Regular Legislative Session will begin on March 7. To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

Bill to change ‘good time’ law named for slain deputy Brad Johnson

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Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson was shot and killed in 2022 by a man authorities said had his prison sentence shortened under Alabama’s good-time behavior incentive law despite escaping from a prison work release center in 2019. Sen. April Weaver, who was a friend of Johnson’s and lives yards from where he was fatally shot, is proposing legislation that would roll back the use of good-time incentives, cutting the time that inmates can shave off their sentences and mandating that certain actions, including escape, cause an inmate to lose all of their credit. Austin Hall, the man accused of killing Johnson and shooting another deputy, served less than four years of a nearly 10-year sentence for theft, according to state records. “They were shot by a felon who was given good-time credits even though he had a history of a lot of bad behavior when he was incarcerated,” Weaver said at a news conference Thursday. The shooting has led to calls to revamp the good-time behavior incentive law, which Weaver and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Thursday called the most generous in the country. But opponents argue the incentives are public safety tools that encourage inmates to better themselves. The issues around the suspect’s release are also complicated. Hall could have had his good-time credit revoked for the escape, but he never returned to state custody after the escape. Alabama allows certain inmates sentenced to 15 or fewer years in prison to receive “good time” behavior incentives— earning up to 75 days of credit for every 30 days of good behavior. Most inmates, including those convicted of murder or manslaughter. are not eligible. In 2021, about 9% of state inmates were eligible for these incentives, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission. “The subject that done this had done roughly three years of his 10-year sentence and had been out roughly three days before he shot my deputy and murdered my friend,” Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade said Thursday. Weaver’s bill would slash incentive time credits by more than half and mandate that escape and other offenses would cause an inmate to lose all of their good time credits. It would also require the prison system to submit reports about its use. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama opposes Weaver’s legislation, saying “people traditionally released on ‘good time’ have earned that time, and its existence incentivizes individuals to utilize education and programming opportunities.” “This bill will further entrench our state in the issues pervading Alabama’s overcrowded and unconstitutional prisons. Limiting ‘good time’ is not in the interest of public safety, as the sponsor is purporting,” Dillon Nettles, the ACLU’s Policy and Advocacy director, said in a statement. The Department of Justice has accused Alabama of housing male prisoners in violent conditions that violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Hall, was serving a nine-year sentence for theft when he escaped from a Camden Work Release Center in 2019. He was on the run for about a month before he was captured after a police chase. An Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman wrote in a July email that Hall had a good time balance of 2,268 days but never came back to prison custody after his escape, “so he never had a disciplinary hearing to revoke the good time.” He faced other unrelated charges, but he was allowed to bond out of local jails. Justin Barkley, chief deputy general counsel for Kay Ivey, told a legislative committee earlier this month that one issue was that Hall was in a couple of different county jails and not returned to state custody. In January, Ivey issued an executive order putting uniform rules on the use of good time and seeking better communication among law enforcement agencies. Deputy Chris Poole, the other deputy shot in the incident, recalled Johnson as a man who wanted to help others. “I watched him try to get people to change their life. It wasn’t just putting them in jail and saying we’re done with you,” Poole said. Poole said after he was shot through his windshield that he radioed Johnson saying, “Brad, don’t chase him,” but Johnson continued. Weaver’s husband, a doctor, rushed to try to help Johnson after he was shot, the county sheriff said. Republished with the permission of The Associated Press.

Kay Ivey reflects on past four years

On Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in for her second full term as Governor of the State. “Folks, standing here four years ago, I could never have imagined what was to come, but I am certain we came out stronger because of you, the good people of Alabama,” Ivey said. During Ivey’s term as governor, she emphasized road and port improvements, began construction on two new mega prisons, improved mental health services, and rural broadband. “We are making improvements to our roads and bridges in all 67 counties, as well as to the Port of Mobile,” Ivey said. “We are moving forward in constructing of new prisons while also continuing to make productive and reasonable reforms to our criminal justice system. We are making mental health care a priority with the addition of six new crisis centers.” “Speaking of results, over 61,000 more Alabama households and businesses will now have broadband access,” Ivey said. Ivey referenced the trend for biological males transitioning to being females and competing in women’s sports – a phenomenon Ivey has consistently opposed. “Never would I have thought that the day we elect a female governor and a female United States senator, we would also have to fight for our girls to have a fair chance when they compete in sports,” Ivey said. This was the fourth inauguration in a row where Republicans won every constitutional office, but Ivey asked for bipartisan cooperation. “I believe we have more in common than that which divides us,” Ivey said. “We all want Alabama to be the best place to live, we want our people working, and we want our children to receive a high-quality education. To put it simply, we all want to continue seeing more of our Alabama common sense. No doubt, much of our current success is a direct result of reaching across the aisle and working together for the betterment of our state.” Ivey highlighted the economic progress the state has achieved during her term as governor. “We have reached the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history, multiple times over,” Ivey said. “We have more good paying jobs available today than at any other point before. I am proud to report today that since I have been governor, we have seen business investments in our state totaling $40 billion, which has created 73,000 new jobs. And I assure you, we are not done yet.” Public education has been abysmal in Alabama for years, but Ivey promised progress during her second term. “Alabama will rank in the top 30 states in reading and math for the first time in our history,” Ivey promised. “As your governor, I also support a parent being able to decide what is best for their own child’s education. We need to have meaningful discussions about school choice in Alabama, and I believe that begins with making needed reforms to our charter school option.” Ivey promised to send books to children through the age of five. “We will partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to ensure every Alabamian can receive books directly to their homes each month after they are born until five years of age,” Ivey said. Ivey promised to reduce regulations on business. “We will reduce burdens holding back our businesses and will cut regulations by 25 percent over the next two years,” Ivey said. Ivey vowed to get tough on crime. “We will back the blue, and that also means we will continue standing behind the men and women who serve our state as corrections officers,” Ivey stated. “Just last week, I signed an executive order to ensure violent criminals remain off the streets. We must do everything we can to ensure we will never again lose Alabamians like Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson to a man who should never have been out of prison in the first place.” Inauguration day was also Martin Luther King Day. Ivey acknowledged King’s historical impact. “It was in this very place, in the heart of downtown of Montgomery, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for equality for all,” Ivey said. “It is my hope we can embrace our history and be able to fully explain to every child how exceptional our country is today.” Dallas and Autauga Counties were hit by tornados on Thursday. Ivey spent recent days surveying the damage and working with local and federal officials to rebuild. “Just a few days ago, tornadoes ravaged parts of our state, stealing the lives of seven of our fellow Alabamians,” Ivey said. “The one light in all of this darkness was our people. Folks all over our state are flocking to the aid of their neighbors hardest hit. Alabamians’ love for each other prevails all, and I am confident we will come back stronger.” “I’m proud to be the second female governor of Alabama, having personally helped Governor Lurleen Wallace get elected in 1967,” Ivey said. “I commit to you today I will work hard over the next four years to build on our roots, so we can address our longstanding challenges, further our progress, and prepare for the future.” To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandonmreporter@gmail.com.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s inauguration speech

Text of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s inauguration speech given on Jan. 16, 2023. Remarks as prepared: My fellow Alabamians: Today, as we mark the start of a new chapter in our state government, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to call Alabama and the United States of America our home. Four years ago, in this very spot, I said our people are our greatest resource and the fabric that holds our state together during both our best days and the more difficult ones. Folks, standing here four years ago, I could never have imagined what was to come, but I am certain we came out stronger because of you, the good people of Alabama. Just a few days ago, tornadoes ravaged parts of our state, stealing the lives of seven of our fellow Alabamians. The one light in all of this darkness was our people. Folks all over our state are flocking to the aid of their neighbors hardest hit. Alabamians’ love for each other prevails all, and I am confident we will come back stronger. I am truly honored by your overwhelming support. You elected me to serve as your governor for four more years, and that is a responsibility I do not take lightly. To my fellow constitutional officers, legislators, and other public servants, hear me loud and clear. We have a busy, productive, and full four years in front of us. Let us work together, and let’s not waste a single moment. We will keep Alabama working, and, as a team, we will ensure our best days are yet to come. Today is a time for us to celebrate all Alabama is, for us to reflect on what we have accomplished, and, most importantly, to plan for the future we are working towards. I am truly grateful to this year’s inaugural chairs for making today’s historic event possible, as well as the many volunteers, law enforcement officials, and others who lent a helping hand. We don’t need to sugarcoat it: Right now, with the state of our nation, times are tough. An unprecedented pandemic has led to the federal government spending way above our means. This has resulted in record-high inflation, which means higher costs everywhere you turn. Alabamians in every corner of our state stepped up in a real way when the pandemic halted how we live here in our country. And now, as your governor, I am doing everything in my power to step up for you and your families to provide meaningful and responsible assistance. Folks, we are living in what – at moments – feels like an unreal time. When I was a young girl growing up in Camden, I could never have imagined the world we live in today. Never would I have thought that the day we elect a female governor and a female United States senator, we would also have to fight for our girls to have a fair chance when they compete in sports. Over my lifetime, and especially during my years of public service, I have come to know the people of Alabama will never compromise our values. I believe our Alabama values make us who we are. And as your governor, I am proud of who we are, and I will always protect what we believe in, never forgetting our roots. And as we look ahead to a future filled with opportunity and great possibility, I pledge that we will build on our roots by focusing on getting the hard work done today while never forgetting that our work now matters most to our future generations. I believe we have more in common than that which divides us. We all want Alabama to be the best place to live; we want our people working; and we want our children to receive a high-quality education. To put it simply, we all want to continue seeing more of our Alabama common sense. No doubt, much of our current success is a direct result of reaching across the aisle and working together for the betterment of our state. We are making improvements to our roads and bridges in all 67 counties, as well as to the Port of Mobile. We are moving forward in constructing of new prisons. while also continuing to make productive and reasonable reforms to our criminal justice system. We are making mental health care a priority with the addition of six new crisis centers. We have put a renewed focus on the fundamentals of education and are beginning to see tangible results. Speaking of results, over 61,000 more Alabama households and businesses will now have broadband access. Since I have been governor, thanks to the work of the Alabama Legislature, we have cut well over half a billion dollars in taxes. That relief helped everyone from our middle class to our farmers to our small businesses to our first-time home buyers and even to those looking to adopt. We have reached the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history multiple times over. We have more good-paying jobs available today than at any other point before. I am proud to report today that since I have been governor, we have seen business investments in our state totaling $40 billion dollars, which has created 73,000 new jobs. And I assure you, we are not done yet. The core issues, the everyday issues, are what will continue to be at the top of my agenda for the next four years. Ensuring every Alabama student receives a high-quality education will be my number one focus. We will build upon the foundation we have laid so that by the end of my term, Alabama will rank in the top 30 states in reading and math for the first time in our history but, in order to be first, we have to continue moving up. Here in Alabama, we support – in fact, we encourage – our parents to be involved in their children’s educational journeys, from birth and