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Alabama bill limiting prison release for good behavior advances


Incentives for some Alabama prisoners to follow 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 where it 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.

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