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Alabama lawmakers vote to rein in use of good behavior incentives

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 inmate 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.

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