Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed an executive order on Monday standardizing how incentive time for good behavior can be taken away for inmates in Alabama state prisons after 2022 marked one of the worst years for the Alabama prison system.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has recorded severe overcrowding and understaffing issues for years.
After a pre-pandemic investigation into 13 maximum-security prisons in the state, the Department of Justice concluded that the “overall unconstitutional condition” of Alabama prisons was due to factors including “understaffing, culture, management deficiencies, corruption, policies, training, non-existent investigations, violence, illicit drugs, and sexual abuse.”
The DOJ followed the investigation with a lawsuit against Alabama.
“Our investigation has demonstrated that constitutionally required standards have not been met in Alabama prisons and this must be corrected,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama Richard W. Moore after the lawsuit was announced in December 2020.
“I am disappointed that the efforts of both Alabama officials and Department of Justice officials to find appropriate solutions have not resulted in a mutually agreed upon resolution. Our oath as public officials now requires us to follow the Constitution and to pursue justice in the courts.”
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division condemned Alabama’s failure to correct constitutional violations in its prison system.
“Alabama violated and is continuing to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence,” Dreiband said. “The violations have led to homicides, rapes, and serious injuries.”
Those factors were further exacerbated in 2022 as thousands of inmates in Alabama went on strike on September 26, due to poor conditions. Alabama’s state prisons reported a record number of deaths in the last year, with 222 deaths in the first 11 months of 2022, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
One in five deaths reported was due to “homicide, suicide or a suspected fatal drug overdose.”
Now, Gov. Ivey’s executive order 725 takes aim at one system inside the state’s prisons and standardizes how correctional incentive time, known as “good time,” which allows inmates to earn time off their sentences by following state prison rules, can be given out. Good time used to be handled by the discretion of individual prison offices, leading to inconsistencies.
The executive order also enhances how the Department of Corrections will go about recapturing escapees.
“Today, I am proud to announce an important step that will increase our public safety,” Ivey said on Monday while announcing the executive order. “Our action today, very simply put, keeps violent offenders off the streets, incentivizes inmates who truly want to rehabilitate and better themselves, reinforces the concept that bad choices have consequences and keeps our public safe.”
The new order establishes a detailed level category system for rule violations. Severe violations include homicide, assault with a weapon, sexual assault and attempt to escape by force. A severe violation would mean the loss of all good time accrual for an inmate.
High-level violations include rioting, assault without a weapon, failure to obey direct orders and drug possession. High-level violations result in a loss of 3 years of good time accrual.
Medium violations include fighting without a weapon, property destruction or theft, refusing to work, curfew violations and possession of a phone. Medium violations result in a loss of two years of good time accrual.
Low-level violations include gambling and the first offense within a year for being in an unauthorized area, disorderly conduct, possession of contraband, or insubordination. A low-level violation will result in the loss of one good time day.
Escape will be categorized as a severe violation, punishable by loss of all good time and of good-time earning status. The Alabama Department of Corrections will also conduct weekly checks to identify and monitor inmates who should be on escape status.
“The governor’s executive order takes important steps toward improving safety while ensuring our ability to enforce the law,” said Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm.
“The line of distinction between those in DOC custody trying to correct past mistakes and those gaming the system has been removed over the last forty years. This is not right for the victims of crime, nor their family,” said Alabama Senator Clyde Chambliss, a vocal proponent of inmate rehabilitation, who spoke in support of the governor’s order in the state’s Monday press conference.
“Governor Ivey once again shows that she will not back away from the hard problems in our state. She and her staff have done yeoman’s work in establishing this executive order to have clear guidelines to both reward good behavior and to hold back those that are not learning their lesson,” Chambliss said.
Some are skeptical that the good time laws will actually do anything to benefit those trying to correct past mistakes while only punishing bad seeds with one user on Twitter, @brockboonelaw proclaiming: “With Ivey’s new executive order if you protest (work stoppage) you lose at least 3 years of ‘good time. ’So 3 more years being caged WTF.”
Rep. Chris England from Tuscaloosa, Alabama responded to the Twitter user with similar concerns about how this order will help a hurting prison system.
“Quick question, how is this not an admission that the administration doesn’t have any answers for the crisis in our prison system?,” England said. “Also, wouldn’t this be outstanding evidence for the DOJ of Alabama’s unwillingness to do anything about the problems we have?”