March 6, 2023 | Kimberly Randall, LHC Staff
As the 2023 Alabama Legislative Session begins on March 6 with Governor Ivey’s State of the State Address, dozens of bills have been pre-filed over the last few weeks. This year starts the first of a four-year term with new committees, new legislators, and new leadership. As a part of a five-part series, the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy has identified five pre-filed bills that could have substantial health implications if passed in 2023.
SB1 – Deputy Brad Johnson Act
Sponsored by: Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield)
This bill has also been pre-filed in the House of Representatives as HB-9 by Rep. Russell Bedsole (R-Montevallo)
Under current Alabama law, § Section 14-9-41, individuals incarcerated within the Alabama Department of Corrections had “good behavior time” calculated by a specific equation. Referred to as correctional incentive time, inmates can have time reduced off of their sentences for serving portions of their time in various amounts depending on their classification, a ranking system determined by the length of time spent incarcerated and the deemed trustworthiness of each individual.
The legislation, SB 1, would decrease the correctional incentive time for each classification of inmates.
Class 1 inmates (considered trustworthy and able to work without supervision) are eligible for a maximum of 75 days to be removed from their sentence per 30 days served. SB 1 would reduce this amount to 30 days.
Class 2 inmates (able to work under supervision) are eligible for a maximum of 40 days of correctional incentive time per 30 days served, which would be reduced to 15 days.
Class 3 inmates (special assignments) are eligible for a maximum of 20 days of correctional incentive time, which would be reduced to 5 days.
Additionally, SB1 doubles the length of time that inmates must spend in each category before advancing to the next class.
Alabama has been scrutinized by the Department of Justice and legal advocacy organizations for being unsanitary, overcrowded, and dangerous. The state has one of the highest incarcerations in the country, with a mortality rate of more than twice the national average. Alabama is home to the most dangerous prison in the United States, as determined by the number of violent and often fatal incidents at St. Clair Correctional Facility. While funding was diverted from the American Rescue Plan in 2022 to build new facilities, the Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner, John Hamm, has declared that the new buildings will not have a higher capacity than the existing ones.
SB1 would increase the number of incarcerated persons in the state at any given time. Under the existing guidelines, an incarcerated person who was given a five-year sentence could be released after 28 months if maxing out the correctional incentive time. Under the proposed changes, the same person would be released no earlier than 36 months. Without proper procedures to increase capacity, medical access, and staffing, this increase in prison populations could have significant adverse health implications for incarcerated persons and prison staff.
Prison systems are hot spots for disease transmission and often have understaffed medical facilities. The Alabama Department of Corrections utilizes a co-pay system for incarcerated persons to use healthcare resources which are often 5-10x their daily wages. Additionally, the cost of medical treatment within the prison system is significantly higher than for unincarcerated persons, resulting in a higher percentage of undiagnosed and untreated diseases. It is also important to note that some disease transmission, such as SARS-COV-2, can impact the prison staff and inmates.
The Alabama Legislative Session officially begins on Wednesday, March 7. SB1 has been scheduled for a first reading that day, which will be sent to the committee for deliberation. Should it pass in committee, a second reading on the Senate floor will place the bill on the official Senate calendar. Then, a third reading will occur where the entire chamber will debate the bill.
Want to learn more about this bill and other issues impacting the Alabama prison system? Join the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy, the UAB Institute for Human Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday, March 22, at 4 PM at University Hall, Room 1008, for a special discussion on Criminal Justice Reform & Human Rights in Alabama. Registration can be found here.
Additionally, we recommend the following organizations for more information on criminal justice reform: