Law enforcement: Early prison release not answer

Published 10:24 pm Friday, January 27, 2012

Funding cuts to law enforcement agencies and proposals to ease population burdens in Alabama prisons through early release of inmates could produce a one-two punch for officers and citizens alike.

According to Gov. Robert Bentley, 2012 could bring as much as a 9 percent proration of the state’s general fund, which funds all state programs, including prisons, except education and the trickle down effect could mean havoc for law enforcement officers.

Already underfunded, these agencies may see even more cuts in the future and the possible solution to funding problems in state prisons could serve to exacerbate the problem for officers of the law, as legislators could propose non-violent offenders be released early in order to lower the population of overcrowded prisons.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Numbers for prison population have been reported as high as 143 percent of capacity in Alabama. Alabama Department of Corrections

Public Information Manager Brian Corbett said the numbers are even higher.

“It’s more like 190 or a little over,” Corbett said

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said releasing inmates early would only place more stress on law enforcement agents already dealing with repeat offenders.

“We see the same people over and over,” Smith said. “People get convicted and they’re out on parole or probation before they even get up there.”

Smith said much of the problem with repeat criminals stems from the overcrowding as judges and probation boards are hesitant to give out or enforce long-term sentences.

“Everybody’s doing everything they can not to overtax the prison system so we can keep the bad guys in there,” he said.

Atmore Police Chief Jason Dean said his department is also dealing with the revolving door of the state prison system and does not believe more releases should be allowed simply to ease the financial burden overcrowding causes.

“We deal with it already,” Dean said. “We deal with it on a daily basis. People that get in trouble and commit crimes and are already out on probation.  I don’t agree with it. I think if a person is sentenced they should fulfill the sentence given to them. I know California and other states like that have passed similar measures, but I don’t really see where it does any good.”

Smith and Dean said keeping repeat offenders out of prison or fast tracking them to early parole is not the answer and is continuing to stress already financially depleted forces.

“I see a difference between a man that will kill your family and a man that will steal your weed eater,” Smith said. “But whenever you have a man that’s got four or five convictions, don’t matter what they’re for, it’s time for him to do a little time.”

Dean said he, too, believes offenders should carry out their sentences and the state should look for alternative ways to pay the bills.

“The only way I know to keep somebody from committing a crime is if there sentenced to be in prison, keep them in prison,” Dean said.

“In my opinion the state might should have built more prisons. You’re not going to stop people from committing crimes and getting incarcerated, but do you keep them in there for the sentence the judge has given them or do you let them out early and take the chance of them coming out here and committing new crimes?”

Community level alternatives to prison sentences do exist, Dean said, but they also have the problem of repeat offenders.

“You have drug court and community corrections. The local courts and authorities were set up to try and help ease some of the burden because they know that the state’s overwhelmed but those people recommit crimes as well.”