02/28/03, The Birmingham News

News staff writer

  MONTGOMERY Officials of the Alabama Sentencing Commission outlined proposals Thursday for moving the state to a "truth-in-sentencing" system by 2006, in which parole would be abolished and convicts would serve their full prison terms. 

Lynda Flynt, executive director of the commission, and Rosa Davis, chief assistant attorney general and vice chairwoman of the panel, said the commission's recommendations will go to the Legislature March 10. 

Some recommendations, such as raising felony amounts in theft and stolen property laws to keep up with inflation, would mean about 1,000 fewer women would go to prison next year, Davis said. 

Other proposals, such as expanding community punishment programs now available in only one-third of the state's counties, adding 120 more parole officers and increasing drug treatment beds, also "will have an immediate impact on prison and jail population," Davis said. 

Flynt said the commission will need a budget of $272,424 next year, down 25 percent from this year's $361,518 budget, but is expecting to apply for a
federal grant as well. 

Davis said the commission's long-term recommendations, such as creating a variety of community punishment options and phasing in a "truth-in-sentencing" system by 2006, would help solve prison and jail crowding problems that have been building for 30 years. 

It shouldn't take another 30 years to solve the problems, Davis said, but "there's not a silver bullet, not a quick fix." 

The first step, if the Legislature approves, would be to provide state judges by July a manual listing the state's top 25 crimes and identifying which of those
might be better punished in a community program instead of a prison. 

The second step would be for the Legislature next year to adopt voluntary sentencing standards based on the range of sentences being imposed in Alabama. The third step would be for the commission to measure the effects of the voluntary standards on prison crowding. 

The final step would be for the Legislature in 2006 to adopt "truth-in-sentencing" standards, doing away with parole and time off sentences for good behavior. 

Under the new system, all felony sentences would include a minimum time that must be served in prison, plus a 20 percent additional time for bad behavior, and a one-year mandatory supervision after release from prison. 

Convicts sentenced before the new system takes effect would still be eligible for parole and probation.