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Ward Re-Elected Chairman of Joint Legislative Energy Committee

State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) this week was reelected chairman of the Alabama legislature’s Committee on Energy Policy.

This bipartisan, bicameral committee is tasked with recommending courses of action to tackle Alabama’s energy challenges to the governor and the legislature as a whole.

In a statement, Ward said, “It is an honor to once again lead this team of citizen-legislators, as we work with Governor Ivey’s administration to craft policies that will encourage the development of cheap and reliable energy sources.”

“These are unprecedented times in the energy industry, and we need policies that breakdown the intrusive government regulations that so often hold the private sector back from delivering innovative energy solutions to consumers,” he added.

The energy policy committee is made up of 13 state legislators, including four members appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives and four appointed by the president pro tem of the Alabama State Senate.

A 2016 study by Auburn University at Montgomery showed that the total economic impact of Alabama’s energy industry was $13.22 billion annually. Additionally, the study found that the energy industry generates 124,000 jobs in the Yellowhammer State.

“In so many ways, Alabama is at the forefront in producing cheap, reliable energy for the country,” Ward outlined. “The Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is the second-largest nuclear facility in the U.S., we rank fifth in the nation in electricity generated from biomass or wood and wood waste, and we have the third-highest number of offshore oil rigs in the country.”

“Alabama’s energy companies are doing inventive work and my goal is that we have policies in place that will reward innovative solutions, which will lead to reduced energy prices for families and businesses,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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Shelby Baptist Medical Center Celebrates 60th Anniversary

ALABASTER – Several members of the Alabaster and Shelby County community united on Monday, Sept. 9, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Shelby Baptist Medical Center.

The event included a cocktail hour, opportunities for guests to tour parts of the recently renovated hospital and special presentations from local and state government officials.

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon presented a proclamation to the hospital in celebration of its 60th anniversary. The hospital also received a commendation from Gov. Kay Ivey and a resolution from the Alabama Senate, which was drafted by Sen. Cam Ward.

Handlon said Shelby Baptist plays an important role in the city, which is a part of the reason why the Alabaster City Council put a lot of energy and effort into creating and protecting the city’s Medical Mile district that runs along U.S. 31.

The city’s proclamation recognized the hospital’s progression from a small community hospital with only 35 beds, eight physicians and 25 nurses, to a cutting-edge hospital with 252 beds and a full range of healthcare services and treatments.

The hospital has physicians located throughout Shelby County, Clanton, Hoover and the U.S. 280 area, according to Brian Pavlick, the hospital’s marketing manager.

“We have transitioned from the era of people having to travel outside of Alabaster to receive high quality care to a time when more and more people outside our community turn to Shelby Baptist Medical Center to meet their every health care need,” the proclamation reads.

While presenting the Senate resolution, Ward said the health of a community can be determined by two things: schools and health care.

“That’s just a truth,” he said. “Looking at this facility, the growth over the years, and how the schools have grown, this community is truly blessed. I’m rooting for your success because it’s vital to our community.”

Shelby Baptist CEO Daniel Listi thanked guests for spending their evening celebrating Shelby Baptist. He also recognized hospital employees and those who paved the way for him.

“I’m just a small piece of what makes Shelby Baptist Medical Center amazing,” he said. “I’ve been here for just one of the 60 years and it’s an honor to be able to work here.”

As a testament to the hospital’s commitment to excellence, it has earned various distinctions including Joint Commission accolades, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Distinction in Cardiac Care Award from 2013-2017, the VHA Leadership Award for Clinical Excellence, Clinical Quality Improvement and Acute Myocardial Infraction in 2009 and the VHA Leadership Award for Clinical Excellence, Patient Experience Superior System Performance in 2009.

The hospital also recently celebrated 25 years of offering women’s services, started an employee benevolence/assistance program, spent about $10 million on renovations throughout the hospital and one of its nurses, Marcy Campbell, recently won The Shelby County Chamber’s Health Care Professional of the Year award.

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Governor Signs Human Trafficking Bills

(Montgomery, AL) – August 13, 2019


Governor Kay Ivey ceremoniously signed HB261 into law on Monday, which makes Alabama
the 9th state to pass a law mandating human trafficking training for new CDL drivers.

Alabama Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) sponsored the bill with Education Policy Chair Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur). Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) and Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) guided the bill through the Senate.

HB261 requires all new commercial driver licensees to undergo industry-specific human trafficking training. Truckers Against Trafficking, a national organization that trains truckers on identifying human trafficking victims in their daily work life, will work with junior colleges and trade schools to facilitate the training.

“Professional truck drivers are in a critical position to recognize human trafficking, and when properly equipped, to know how to respond,” said Kylla Lanier, Deputy Political Director of Truckers Against Training. “To know that Alabama has decided to educate and empower the next generation of professional drivers at the CDL school level with anti-trafficking training is phenomenal!”

“This is another step in expanding the tools in the toolbox to combat human trafficking,” stated Rep. Merika Coleman. “I want to thank the House co-sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, Senate sponsor Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, and Senate co-sponsor Sen. Cam Ward.”

“We could not have done this without Sen. Ward’s tremendous dedication and work in seeing them over the finish line before sine die,” continued Rep. Coleman. “I look forward to continuing this bi-partisan work next year, perhaps following Florida’s lead in requiring human trafficking awareness in schools.”

The Alabama legislature unanimously passed two bi-partisan human trafficking bills this session: HB261 & HB262 and two House Joint Resolutions: HJR145 and HJR244. HB262 was pocket-vetoed by Governor Ivey after her team discovered a clerical error in a late addition amendment. Coleman expects to re-introduce the bill next session.

HB262 clarifies existing law to prohibit publishing photos of those charged with the act of prostitution, while allowing for publishing photos of those charged with soliciting or procuring prostitution. The bill is aimed at deterring “John’s” from purchasing sex and supporting human trafficking, while protecting potential victims of human trafficking from public identification.

HJR145 encourages Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to continue developing curriculum to ensure that every law enforcement officer and agent in the state is trained regarding human trafficking victim identification.

HJR244 creates the Alabama Healthcare Human Trafficking Training Program Commission, which is tasked with developing a training module for all healthcare related employees to readily identify and provide trauma-centered care for human trafficking victims.

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Governor's Prison Study Group Begins Looking at Issues

Bill Lundsford, speaking for the Department of Corrections at today’s first meeting of Gov. Kay Ivey’s prison study group, illustrated one problem with Alabama’s prison system which summed up several others.

The ADOC hasn’t built a new prison facility since the Internet became widely available to the general public, he said. That presents a problem for prison authorities when they try to add computers for inmate enrichment programs to facilities without air conditioning.

The statement crystallized Alabama’s dilemma - prisons too hot for computers, crowded beyond their capacities with inmates, most of whom will eventually return to society needing preparation to gain employment and rejoin productively.

The Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, chaired by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, met at the Alabama State House to begin discussions about issues with the state’s correctional system that go back decades. Lundsford, an attorney who represents the ADOC, gave a talk about the department’s ongoing legal issues and challenges in staffing and infrastructure.

Alabama’s prisons, currently at 164 percent their capacity, have about $750 million in deferred maintenance issues. The department is paying roughly $50 million more for inmate healthcare than it was a decade ago, and has about 1,000 fewer security staff than in 2009.

At the same time, the department is dealing with the settlement requirements of a long-running lawsuit over mental health care for prisoners, and the fallout from a Justice Department report earlier this year detailing an atmosphere of violence in prisons that investigators said violate the U.S. Constitution.

Lyons, speaking for the committee, said it plans to not only look at the ongoing issues, but along broader lines such as policy initiatives to improve prison conditions, reform sentencing, address future needs and reduce recidivism. The committee tentatively plans to tour a prison in August.

Lundsford, speaking to the committee, said a federal takeover of Alabama’s prisons, such as one that occurred in California, seems unlikely because of the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act, which specifies how prison conditions may be addressed by court order. Lundsford said California’s case had been much longer in duration than Alabama’s before a takeover. That state had a longer history of failed remedies, and courts can only address conditions by the least intrusive means, he said.

A few committee members raised their eyebrows when it appeared that Lundsford was saying Alabama did not have an overcrowding issue.

“Are you sitting here telling us that we’re not overcrowded in the state of Alabama?” State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, asked. “I’m just dealing with DOC numbers here."

Lundsford, and later Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, said he wasn’t addressing the actual staffing numbers, but a murkier point - the legal definition of prison overcrowding. “It wasn’t from a physical or architectural standpoint,” Lundsford said later.

He also said talks with the Justice Department regarding a settlement following the DOJ investigation are ongoing, but said ADOC disputes the report’s contention that a climate of violence and abuse is rampant throughout the system’s men’s prisons.

Several committee members said the Legislature took a necessary first step in its last session by increasing funding for prisons, partly to raise pay for correctional officers. The Ivey administration has issued a request seeking companies qualified to build three men’s prisons that the state would lease. The new prisons would house about 10,000 inmates, about half of Alabama’s current prison population. Some of the existing prisons would close under the plan.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who previously sat on other prison reform committees, said he felt this time, there’s interest in real action.

“The big difference is the governor is wanting to take the initiative,” Ward said. “The level of commitment she has put forth, the interest in sentencing, the facilities, the conditions.”

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Governor Signs Pardon & Parole Bill

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation Thursday that will reform the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.  

House Bill 380 is designed to increase the efficiency of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. This bill creates a Director of Pardons and Paroles, appointed by the governor, and provides strict rules and guidelines to prevent violent offenders from receiving early paroles.

Formerly, members of the board were selected by the governor from a list compiled by the nominating commission. HB380 bill will eliminate the nominating commission and create a new nominating board that includes the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

In addition to the strict guidelines for granting a pardon or parole, at least one member on the board must be a current or former law enforcement officer with a minimum of 10 years of experience in or with a law enforcement agency with experience in investigation of violent crimes.

The law will go into effect in September.

“The paramount duty of this board is to protect and instill confidence in public safety,” Ivey said. “Attorney General Steve Marshall and I have been relentless in pursuing efficiency and prudency for this board. I am proud to sign such a strong piece of legislation designed to protect Alabama citizens.”

Rep. Connie Rowe and Sen. Cam Ward sponsored the bill.

“This long overdue reform was needed to protect the lives of citizens and respect the families of victims of crime,” Ward said.

Changes to the appointments board have been debated following the parole of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who was serving a life sentence on multiple burglary charges. Spencer was incorrectly classified as a non-victim offender and paroled in November 2017. Six months after his release, Spencer was charged with the murder of three people, including a seven year old.

The state of Alabama paid $1 million in damages last month to the families of the victims after the families alleged that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles wrongfully paroled Spencer and failed to supervise him after his release.

“By sponsoring this bill, I hope to eliminate the wrongful, improper release and improper supervision of violent offenders from Alabama’s prison system.” Rowe said. “I am grateful for the governor and her administration’s support on this piece of legislation. The board’s number one priority should be public safety. This Act gives strict rules and guidelines that will instill public trust and confidence in our pardons and paroles board.”

Jessa Reid Bolling is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter and graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in journalism and political science. You can email her at jbolling@alreporter.com or reach her via Twitter.

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Legislature Approves Pardon & Parole Overhaul

The Alabama Senate passed House Bill 380 Thursday, which reforms the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The House has already passed the legislation so it now goes to the governor.

HB380 was sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper.

The bill was carried in by Senate Judiciary Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has been a vocal proponent of reforming the parole board following some very high-profile mistakes, some of which resulted in parolees murdering Alabama citizens following an erroneous early release.

“Too many lives were lost because of wrongful, early paroles in our state,” Ivey said. “Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and I have been relentless in our efforts to ensure the Board of Pardons and Paroles is managed prudently and effectively.”

During the debate, Ward referenced a disabled convenience store clerk who was gunned down by a parolee.

“Heads need to roll at the Board of Pardons and Paroles,” Ward said.

Ward also denounced the head of the Board of Pardons and Parole for emailing his probation officers and urging them to drive their state cars to the capital to lobby against the bill.

“This bill ensures strong accountability and oversight of a large state agency with more than 600 employees,” Ivey continued. “The justice system should not fail the people of our state again, like it did in the Jimmy O’Neal Spencer case last year.”

“The first civil right of every citizen is to be free from the fear of violence,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “The people of Alabama deserve the assurance that their criminal-justice system is operating in the best interest of public safety. Today, the Alabama Legislature passed legislation that will reform our state’s badly broken system of pardons and paroles. But this was about far more than fixing a failing agency; this was about securing public safety. We will now be able to better protect the people of our great state.”

Throughout the course of the debate, Marshall identified numerous other instances in which the Board has failed in its duties in recent years, underscoring the need for legislative change.

“For months, the Board has claimed that it was under attack … by the Attorney General’ and that I was simply overreacting to one, isolated instance of ‘human error’ by advocating for this legislation, which the members of the Board and the agency’s executive director have stridently opposed,” Marshall added. “The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles needs fresh, new leadership. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”

“I commend Rep. Rowe, Sen. Ward and the Alabama Legislature on the successful passage of this bill,” Ivey said. “Ultimately, this is a major win for victims’ rights, the families of victims and every citizen across the state. We will continue to be steadfast in our efforts to improve the pardons and paroles system, while restoring confidence in public safety.”

“I look forward to receiving and signing this important piece of legislation,” Ivey concluded.

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Lawmakers Boost Pay for Correctional Officers; Expect a Special Session

As the Alabama Legislature’s 2019 regular session wound down Friday, state lawmakers had boosted the budget for the state’s prisons and approved a pay raise for correctional officers, and they expect to meet again in the fall to address other issues in a system that is still overcrowded, under-resourced and under the watchful eye of a federal judge and the U.S. Justice Department.

“There are lot of different issues, from mental health to overcrowding, the pay, to facilities,” said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that will give correctional officers “a one-time two-step salary increase,” and expand bonus opportunities for Department of Corrections employees. The measure takes effect Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 2020.

Over the past few years, the Department of Corrections has seen its budgets increase by small amounts. Its funding from the General Fund in fiscal 2020 is $601 million.

The Legislature has approved and sent to the governor a General Fund budget that includes money to cover the pay increase signed into law by Ivey, give money to hire and train 500 new corrections officers during fiscal 2020 and improve the prison system’s mental health services.

Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn issued a statement thanking the Legislature for the budget and adding that he looked forward “to working with our state leadership in the months ahead as we move forward to address immediate challenges that include developing a sustainable workforce, and revitalizing the infrastructure of our prison system.”

“We still have a lot of work ahead,” said state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

Special Session on Prisons Expected

According to “Recruiting and Retaining Correctional Officers,” a report prepared for Corrections by Warren Averett, an accounting and consulting firm, a federal judge recently ruled that the key problems putting inmates in harm’s way were a “shortage of mental health staff, understaffing of correctional officers and overcrowding.”

Building new, state-of-the-art prisons is another down-the-road priority for lawmakers. The questions are how many, and how they will become reality. Ivey has talked of a private company building the prisons, then leasing them to the state, which then would staff them and operate them. Some lawmakers, on the other hand, would prefer that the Legislature develop a plan of its own, a plan that has failed in previous sessions.

“My guess is, you’ll probably see some sort of hybrid approach, where she says she wants to do it but she’ll have some sort of legislative oversight,” Ward said.“That’s where I have a feeling we’re going, and that’s probably a better way of doing it.”

In any event, lawmakers expect Ivey to call a special session for October on prison issues, and “all options are on the table,” said Gina Maiola, a deputy press secretary to the governor.

In April, the U.S. Justice Department issued a toughly worded report in which it stated that Alabama prisons “do not provide adequate humane conditions of confinement.

“They have a number of significant physical plant-related security issues that contribute to the unreasonable risk of serious harm from prisoner violence,” the report added. “These problems include defective locks; insufficient or ineffective cameras; a lack of mirrors; deteriorating electrical and plumbing systems; as well as structural design issues and weaknesses with the buildings and their perimeters. These problems allow prisoners to leave secure areas, obtain contraband, and improperly associate with or assault other prisoners.”

Justice Department: List of Prison Problems

However, the report states that the problems afflicting the system require a lot more than new, properly equipped buildings.

“New facilities alone will not resolve the contributing factors to the overall unconstitutional condition of ADOC prisons, such as understaffing, culture, management deficiencies, corruption, policies, training, non-existent investigations, violence, illicit drugs, and sexual abuse,” the report states. “And new facilities would quickly fall into a state of disrepair if prisoners are unsupervised and largely left to their own devices, as is currently the case.”

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. (Source: Tom Gordon)

As of last week, Alabama’s prisons, work release centers and other state-run facilities held 20,369 inmates. Ward, who has worked on prison issues for years in his position in the Legislature, said about 70 percent of the inmates were serving time for the state criminal code’s most serious offenses such as murder and rape and robbery in the first degree.

In recent years, as the Legislature has approved sentencing reforms designed to keep certain categories of offenders out of prison and nudged up officer pay, the state prison system’s inmate population has been dropping. But the current population still amounts to 164% of what the state’s aging facilities were built to hold. The number of correctional officers was listed last week at 1,414, meaning that for every 14 inmates, there is one officer. About 1,900 authorized correctional officer slots are unfilled.

In some institutions, the occupancy rate is dramatically higher. At Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, for example, the occupancy rate is nearly 200%. That means officers there work vast amounts of overtime and officers from other institutions help with the staffing. In December 2017, Bibb’s inmate-to-officer ratio was 31 to 1.

Earlier this year, according to the Justice Department, Dunn said the department needed to hire 2,200 correctional officers “over the next four years to adequately staff its men’s prisons.”

Friends and relatives watch as a new group of correctional officers stand at attention during graduation ceremonies April 25, 2019, in Selma. (Source: Tom Gordon)

On April 25, 58 students became correctional officers after completing 12 weeks of training at the Alabama Corrections Academy in Selma and were assigned to different institutions throughout the system. Seventy-five more students are now in Selma, “the biggest class since 2015,” according to Lt. Jonathon Levins, the academy’s training supervisor, and more than 100 applicants are expected for the training class that starts in September. Corrections spokesman Bob Horton said the department hopes to graduate 500 correctional officers in 2020, 700 in 2021 and 800 in 2022.

“We’re beginning to make real headway in addressing our core issue, and that is lack of staffing,” Dunn said.

Corrections recently announced what Horton called “an important step forward” to address that core issue – the creation of another position, called a basic correctional officer. Those officers will undergo six weeks of training and perform many of the same tasks that regular correctional officers do, except for such tasks as transferring inmates, driving patrol trucks on a prison’s perimeter or manning patrol towers. A lot more will be required of them than from some employees now scattered throughout the system who are known as correctional cubical operators. A veteran officer at one of the state’s prisons said the cubical operators receive two weeks’ training, “don’t deal directly with inmates” and basically lock and open cell block doors.

For years, Corrections has seen steady losses from the ranks of its regular correctional officers. Those officers not only receive 12 weeks training, but they are certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. According to the Warren Averett report, nearly 50% of 2013’s 236 Corrections Academy graduates and 72% of 2016’s 124 grads were gone after a few years on the job. Such losses have consequences inside the prisons.

Inmates “Not Being Watched”

“Dormitories of prisoners, housing up to 180 men, are often unsupervised for hours or shifts at a time,” states the Justice Department report.

At the sprawling Donaldson Correctional Facility near Bessemer, a prison that houses some of the system’s worst offenders, less than 40 percent of the authorized correctional officer slots were filled last June, according to the Justice Department. Last week, a Donaldson veteran officer said that means that in many parts of the prison, inmates are “not being watched.”

Alabama Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn watches as 58 new correctional officers are sworn in during April 25, 2019, graduation ceremonies at the Alabama Corrections Academy in Selma
(Source: Tom Gordon)

“They pretty much do what they want to do if they can get away with it,” said the veteran, who asked that his name not be used because he is not a designated spokesman. As an example, he said in one part of the prison there are five open bay dormitories, each containing about 130 inmates.

“We used to have cubicle officers in between the units so we could have at least one officer with eyes on the inmates all the time,” the veteran said. “We had to close those (cubicles) because we don’t have the personnel to keep people up there now … We might have one or two officers on the South side for all 500 to 600 inmates and they are tentative about going inside the dorms to patrol. And part of it, too, is they yank us out so much to where you end up doing a whole bunch of different things that you can’t walk through the units like you used to.”

In its scathing April report on Alabama prison conditions, the U.S. Justice Department stated, “The combination of ADOC’s overcrowding and under-staffing results in prisons that are inadequately supervised, with inappropriate and unsafe housing designations, creating an environment rife with violence, extortion, drugs, and weapons.”

Report: Highest Homicide Rate

Citing the latest data available from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the report states Alabama prisons “have the highest homicide rate in the country.” And no other state department comes close to paying what Corrections pays in overtime – nearly $32 million cited for one year in the Justice report.

According to the latest Corrections numbers for the current fiscal year, inmate deaths by homicide already total eight for fiscal 2019, one higher than the seven listed for all of fiscal 2018. Other stats suggest that inmate on inmate assaults, with or without serious injury, and inmate assaults on prison staffers that don’t lead to serious injury will all be fewer at year’s end. But inmate assaults on staff that result in serious injuries look to be higher, maybe even twice as high, than the 12 reported in fiscal ‘18.

What to Do?

“The biggest thing we need, obviously, is people and the only way we’re going to get more people is to offer more pay,” the veteran officer said.

Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn, right, with new correctional officer Talisha Gadsden during April 25, 2019, graduation ceremonies for 58 new officers at the Alabama Corrections Academy in Selma. (Source: Tom Gordon)

According to the Warren Averett report, correctional officers “receive standard state government benefits, which are in most cases comparable or better than benefits for private sector jobs,” but their salaries “are not high enough to compete with other law enforcement jobs.

“The mean salary for correctional officers and jailers in Alabama is $35,370,” according to the report, “while the mean salary for police and sheriff’s patrol officers is $44,490.”

In issuing its report on Alabama prisons, Justice threatened to sue the state 49 days later to force it to address conditions in the prisons. That deadline passed last week. and Ward and Marsh said Justice officials understand that Alabama lawmakers are working on a multi-faceted prison reform approach.

“We talk almost on a daily basis,” Ward said, “and they’ve really been good to work with … What they want to see is that you’re serious about making progress. They want to see that at least, you’re trying.”

“We want to be very clear to the Department of Justice, we are not putting this off. We want to make sure we are well prepared and address all these issues at the same time,” Marsh said.

“This is a state problem that is our responsibility to address and I’ve not been in a meeting where anybody was butting heads over this thing,” Marsh added. “In June, we will start work on what I would call a more comprehensive package to address the … prison situation.”

One thing that has been happening is that a group of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, have been periodically meeting out of the spotlight to discuss prison issues. Topics have included more sentencing reform and more special courts to divert offenders from prison.

“This is the first time, ever, since I’ve been here that I’ve seen a group of black Democratic House members and senators (and) Republican guys in the House and Senate, all in the same room talking about the same thing, and actually being not far apart from each other,” Ward said.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who sponsored the pay and bonus bill that Ivey signed into law Wednesday, has been pushing for a bill to require Corrections to submit monthly reports to the Legislature on cases of sexual abuse and suicides, Ward said.

“That was a Democratic idea and all the Republicans in the room said, ‘That’s a good idea.,’” Ward said. “And the reason that worked? We’re getting in a room by ourselves, no media, no lobbyists, just us, and coming up with some of these ideas.”

BirminghamWatch, in collaboration with B-Metro Magazine, documented the conditions under which correctional officers work for a story last year:

 

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Bill to Ease Work Place Restrictions on Those Who Have Served in Prison Passes

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WKRG) -- The Alabama State Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that removes many of the work restrictions that currently face people who have served the entirety of their prison sentence and paid full restitution.

Senate Bill 163, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), received bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the House and the Senate.  

Currently, there are 783 places in Alabama’s laws and regulations where citizens who have committed a crime are indefinitely barred from receiving various occupational and professional licenses.

The legislation allows a person who has served their full sentence and paid all restitution to petition a judge to obtain an order of limited relief. Once the order of limited relief is obtained, an occupational licensing board or commission is prohibited from automatically denying a certification to someone with such an order. The board is required to conduct a fair hearing and consider the merits of the petitioner’s case.

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STEM Academy Receives Grant

The LeCroy Technical Center in Clanton received a $9800 Cawaco RC&D grant,in partnership with the Alabama 
Legislature, to provide assistance with 13 teachers that teach engineering, computer science, and robotics classes in six sites. Teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade provided hands on classroom
environments.

Senator Ward stated that he believed with the increased demand for skilled employees in our state, programs
like this are needed to continue growing our economy.

 

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Alabama Legislators Focus Efforts on Prison Crisis

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBRC) - A bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced a handful of new bills aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system and reducing the prison population.

It’s a tall order in a traditionally tough-on-crime state, but the stakes for Alabama could not be higher. A damning report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found the state’s prisons for men to be “cruel and unusual,” citing widespread sexual abuse, deadly violence and extortion. In 2017, a federal judge called mental healthcare in prisons “horrendously inadequate,” citing record suicides. The remedy to that class-action lawsuit will cost the state millions of dollars.

Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said a group of about 14 legislators, from both chambers and both parties, has been meeting to talk about options in reforming Alabama’s embattled correctional system. He said they’ve had “blunt, brutal” discussions, with no lobbyists present and they are hoping for a special session to address these issues. The bipartisan effort may finally make the difference needed to pass meaningful improvements in Alabama, according to Ward.

“We’ve all been open with each other,” Ward said. “I’ve been here 17 years and I’ve never seen it.”

Sen. Ward sponsored an omnibus bill, SB 382, an ambitious opening that would repeal the state’s habitual offender law, raise thresholds for property and drug crimes and allow any inmate sentenced prior to October 1, 2013, when presumptive sentencing standards took effect, to petition the court for a new sentence.

The bill is a starting point, a place to begin discussions, negotiations and the inevitable emotional wrangling that surrounds undoing policies decades in the making.

Another bill, HB 614 sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, would require every judicial circuit to establish drug court, mental health court and community corrections programs. The biggest need is for mental health court. Currently, 11 adult mental health courts and one juvenile mental health court are operating across the state, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“There are some things that are being discussed that are positive and things we can work towards,” Matson said. “My concerns are about the release of violent offenders.”

When questioned about funding or how the state plans to implement such sweeping changes, little details were offered because lawmakers say they’re in the beginning stages.

“This notion that we need to pass a bill tomorrow, I think is foolhardy,” said Ward. “We’ve got take our time and get this right so we’re not doing this every year again.”

Yet time is not on Alabama’s side. The DOJ gave the state 49 days to address concerns outlined in the federal findings letter released April 2. Sen. Ward said state leaders are in conversation with DOJ officials and he does not anticipate a federal lawsuit under CRIPA, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Next Wednesday would be the first opportunity the DOJ could file a lawsuit.

Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement Thursday that state leaders have “willingly engaged in a dialogue with us,” but it was too early to determine whether there will be CRIPA litigation.

“The Department of Justice remains hopeful that such steps will be unnecessary,” Town said.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the DOJ report has created the political will to tackle these issues, which are not politically popular. He said for years, lawmakers gave the impression that being smart on crime meant to lock everybody up.

“We have to introduce the concept that everyone shouldn’t be incarcerated,” England said. “Everyone shouldn’t be locked away or ignored for 20 to 30 years.”

Governor Kay Ivey has not yet called a special session, but released a statement applauding the bipartisan effort, saying she believes there is no single solution and no easy answers but has faith her administration will work closely with the legislature to solve these issues.

“This problem has been kicked down the road for the last time,” Ivey said.

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