Pryor says state needs sentencing reform
The Associated Press
MOBILE -- U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor told Southern legislators that sentencing practices in many states have been unfair and a factor in mushrooming prison populations, with his home state a prime example.
"If sentencing reform has been urgently needed anywhere, it's in Alabama," said Pryor, who was Alabama's attorney general before being appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "'Crisis' is the only word that could fairly be used to describe the condition in my state."
Pryor, speaking Tuesday to the Southern Legislative Conference, said a commission in 1999 concluded that defendants in Alabama received dramatically different sentences according to where their crimes were committed.
He said the number of prisoners in Alabama grew by 600 percent from 1973 to 2003 while the overall population increased by just 30 percent. He said that is similar to the trend nationally, but the effects in Alabama have been more pronounced than most places.
"Alabama used incarceration as punishment more often than almost every other state," said Pryor, who supports the use of statewide standards to help regulate sentencing.
He said the Alabama Sentencing Commission was created in hopes of providing judges with standards to use when sentencing prisoners. But the commission has not succeeded in getting its standards passed by the Legislature.
"Its success is not guaranteed," he said. "Sentencing reform takes patience, commitment and data."
Supporters say they are encouraged by the fact that the proposals do not seem to have any organized opposition.
"We're going to continue to consider those as priorities," House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, told the Mobile Register in an interview.
Pryor in his speech also said that while different groups saw the issue from different perspectives, "I could not find a defender of the status quo."
This is really good news for Alabama. Maybe with Pryor supporting reform something will actually get done. I think I'll write him a letter of thanks.