Senate, House Judiciary Committee Chairs Urge Business Support for Adult, Juvenile Justice Reforms

The chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees were the speakers at today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Tuesday Briefing and they urged business community support for juvenile and adult justice system reforms.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, discussed the role of their committees that get the first look at criminal justice issues including prison reform.

Today’s Tuesday Briefing was sponsored by the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association (AAIA) and the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association (AAMA). Both are partners of the BCA and provide tens of thousands of jobs in Alabama.

The AAIA is a private non-profit, industry-led organization of aerospace and defense industry leaders committed to growing business in Alabama by promoting the growth of aerospace in Alabama.

Formed in 2001, the AAMA’s mission is to promote growth and continuous improvement of automotive manufacturing in Alabama and to provide a forum for interaction among automotive companies, information sharing among members, and to provide an awareness of manufacturing trends, techniques, and concerns.

“These two sectors have been significant for our state,” said BCA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Chief of Staff Mark Colson, who introduced Sen. Ward and Rep. Hill.

The House and Senate during the 2018 regular legislative session have been tasked with reforming aspects of the criminal justice system and prison issues deserving reform by a federal judge. They include improving physical and mental health treatment.

Diverting young men and women to productive lives and providing adequate treatment, rehabilitation, and workforce training for qualifying adults who are in the justice system are worthy goals for Alabama’s courts, law enforcement systems, citizens, and employers.

Sen. Ward has been a leading legislative force in prison sentencing reform during his eight years as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but criminal justice reform is a slow, meandering process,” Sen. Cam Ward

Sen. Ward said the Legislature with Governor Ivey’s support will appropriate an additional $30 million this fiscal year and $50 million next fiscal year to the Department of Corrections for health services and to hire additional corrections officers.

Adult Crime Prevention Starts with Juveniles

To Rep. Hill, a former district and circuit court judge, adult and juvenile correction legislation needs sincere and deliberate consideration not just within the confines of their committees but by society as a whole.

Rep. Hill said preventing juveniles from becoming full-fledged adult criminals is a necessary endeavor because a man or woman in prison is not productive, whether it’s an adult or juvenile.

“Keeping man in prison, the cost to us for upkeep, providing for his family, he doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t work, he isn’t a productive member of society,” Rep. Jim Hill

As sad as is the reality of teen and even pre-teenage criminal actions is, efforts at rehabilitation include drug and alcohol treatment for 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds, Rep. Hill said.

“This starts with juveniles,” Rep. Hill said, and rethinking of programs. For example, he said, state drug treatment at the Department of Youth Services is expensive, about $145 a day, versus $25 a day in community-based programs, Rep. Hill said.

But many of Alabama’s rural Alabama counties have no juvenile programs to encourage children to obtain a successful lifestyle. Ending that deficiency must be part of the effort to promote effective juvenile programs.

“The business community can support this and recognize that education and a trained work force is what you need,” Sen. Ward

Rep. Hill said another aspect of reform is to fix the disparity that exists in adult and juvenile sentencing guidelines. He used an example than an adult leading a juvenile in a burglary can get probation. But the juvenile cannot and has to be removed from his or her home and taken into state custody. (A juvenile justice bill is in progress, Rep. Hill said.)

“We can correct a lot of these and put money back into the local community,” Rep. Hill said. “Local juvenile officers are dealing with these kids.”

Within hours of their appearance and justice reform message, published a guest opinion about current legislation written by former Jefferson County Presiding Family Court Judge Brian Huff that went straight to their point.

Sen. Ward said the Legislature is considering community-based treatment for juveniles, but it may not be finished this year.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but criminal justice reform is a slow, meandering process,” Sen. Ward said. “The business community can support it and encourage this and recognize that education and a trained work force is what you need.”