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BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative
BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • At nearly 195 percent of capacity, Alabama's prison system was the most crowded in the United States in 2014. With help from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Prison Reform Task Force analyzed the prison population drivers and developed policy options.
  • Data analysis found that prison was the most common disposition for felony convictions, with two-thirds of sentences to prison from people convicted of property and drug offenses.
  • Alabama enacted SB 67 in May 2015 to strengthen community-based supervision and treatment, make prison space a priority for those convicted of violent offenses, provide supervision to every person released from prison, and improve notification to people who have been victimized regarding releases from prison.
  • The provisions of the bill were projected to reduce the overcrowding in Alabama prisons by 16 percent and bring the prison population down from 195 percent to 164 percent of capacity by fiscal year 2021.1
In 2015, Alabama enacted justice reinvestment reform through Senate Bill (SB) 67. Among other changes, SB 67 strengthened community-based supervision, provided supervision for every person released from prison, prioritized prison space for those convicted of violent offenses, and expanded victim notification. The bill also called for continuing oversight by a standing legislative committee to look at barriers to reentry for individuals with mental health disorders and to evaluate the operational capacity of facilities in the state corrections system.

In 2014, Alabama's expanding prison population had filled the state's correctional facilities to 195 percent of their design capacity. Faced with extreme overcrowding, Alabama used contract facilities and alternative placements to manage almost a quarter of its prison population in 2013.2

To address this overcrowding, in 2014, the Alabama legislature created the Prison Reform Task Force to improve public safety, reduce corrections spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that will reduce crime and recidivism. Chaired by Senator Cam Ward, the bipartisan task force included designees from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as state and local criminal justice system stakeholders. It studied and reported on the state's criminal justice system, and developed policy recommendations for the legislature to consider in the 2015 session.3

Working with staff from the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center), the Prison Reform Task Force engaged key agencies and stakeholder groups. The CSG Justice Center convened focus groups and meetings with prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, law enforcement and corrections officials, people currently and formerly incarcerated, people who had been victimized and their advocates, probation and parole officers, and county officials, among others.4

The CSG Justice Center used data from the Department of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Alabama Sentencing Commission to analyze the drivers of the correctional population and its costs. The CSG Justice Center also conducted surveys of judges, parole board members, probation and parole officers, Community Corrections Programs staff, and sheriffs. Based on the analysis, the Prison Reform Task Force found that prison is the most used disposition type for felony convictions, with two-thirds of sentences to prison resulting from property and drug offenses. The findings also revealed that probation revocations to prison had increased by 47 percent since fiscal year (FY) 2009.5

Drawing from the data analysis findings, the CSG Justice Center identified four key strategies to curb prison growth and ensure public safety: strengthen community-based supervision and treatment; prioritize prison space for those convicted of violent offenses; provide supervision to every person released from prison; and improve notification to people who have been victimized regarding releases from prison. The Prison Reform Task Force voted to develop these strategies into policy options for the legislature to consider in its 2015 session. 6

The policy framework recommended by the Prison Reform Task Force was translated into SB 67, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed by then Governor Robert Bentley in May 2015. The bill incorporates the Prison Reform Task Force recommendations of strengthening community-based supervision, providing supervision for every person released from prison, prioritizing prison space for those convicted of violent offenses, and expanding notification to those who have been victimized. The bill also calls for continuing oversight by a standing legislative committee to look at barriers to reentry for individuals with mental health disorders and to evaluate the operational capacity of facilities in the Alabama corrections system.7

The Criminal Justice Oversight and Implementation Council was established by Executive Order to oversee implementation of SB 67. Chaired by the Alabama Governor's Office, the Oversight Council includes state leaders from all three branches of government. It first convened in July 2015 and scheduled regular meetings to sustain implementation progress. The CSG Justice Center has worked with Alabama on implementing the Ohio Risk Assessment System to determine the supervision levels required for individuals on probation and parole, building research capacity, implementing the parole decisionmaking guidelines, and tracking performance metrics, such as the use of 45-day prison sanctions for technical violations committed while under community supervision.8

The Prison Reform Task Force recommended that the legislature reinvest $152 million ($26 million in FY 2016 and more than $25 million annually from FY 2017 through FY 2021) of the $380 million in costs averted through the new legislation to support the successful implementation of the policy framework.9 Alabama invested $16 million in FY 2016 and $26.6 million in FY 2017.10 In FY 2017, $19 million went to hiring additional probation and parole officers, $8 million funded diversion of those convicted of low-level offenses, and $100,000 was for improvements to the victim notification system.11

Alabama leaders developed a comprehensive list of performance metrics that are collected regularly so that state agencies can monitor the outcomes from the justice reinvestment policies. These metrics inform ongoing implementation efforts and provide data on cost savings and outcomes. Alabama also automated the response matrix in its data system to make it simpler for officers to enter data and track performance metrics.12

Related Resources

  • For a full catalog of materials, see the CSG Justice Center's state page.
  • Justice Reinvestment in Alabama: Overview. CSG Justice Center, BJA-sponsored, 2014. This brief highlights recent criminal justice trends in Alabama that the Prison Reform Task Force will explore as part of the state's justice reinvestment effort. Trends highlighted in the report include prison and community supervision populations, crime and arrest, and recidivism. PDF
  • Justice Reinvestment in Alabama: 1st Presentation to Prison Reform Task Force, June 10, 2014. CSG Justice Center, BJA-sponsored, 2014. This presentation discussed Alabama's recent criminal justice trends, identified the research and principles behind "what works" for reducing recidivism, and touched on justice reinvestment case studies from other states. PDF
  • Alabama's Justice Reinvestment Approach. CSG Justice Center, BJA-sponsored, 2015. A report by the CSG Justice Center describing Alabama's justice reinvestment policy framework and legislation enacted in May 2015. PDF
  • Justice Reinvestment in Alabama: Analysis and Policy Framework. The CSG Justice Center, BJA-sponsored, 2015. A report by the CSG Justice Center on statewide criminal justice trends and proposed policies developed by the Prison Reform Task Force, along with projected outcomes. PDF

Updated May 2017

Notes

1 Council of State Governments Justice Center, March 2015, "Justice Reinvestment in Alabama: Analysis and Policy Framework," New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center. PDF
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Council of State Governments Justice Center, May 2015, "Justice Reinvestment in Alabama: Reducing Prison Overcrowding and Strengthening Community-Based Supervision," New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center. PDF
8 Communication with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, February 2017; Communication with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, November 2016.
9 After modifications to the justice reinvestment policy framework were made during the legislative process, the impact estimates were revised. The estimated averted construction and operations costs were updated to be $380 million from FY 2016 to FY 2021.
10 Information drawn from the Alabama Criminal Justice Oversight and Implementation Council Meeting, organized by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, July 2016.
11 Communication with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, April 2016.
12 Communication with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, February 2017.
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