Ala. governor changes 'good time' policy

“Failure to obey a direct order of an ADOC employee” is now a high-level violation that will lead to losing three years of accrued good time

By Mike Cason

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm today announced new rules on correctional incentive time, better known as good time, which can allow some state inmates to shorten their prison sentences with good behavior.

Ivey said she supported good time opportunities for inmates but did not want the rules to be too lenient. Hamm said the use of Alabama’s correctional incentive time law, passed in 1980, has been left to the discretion of officials at individual prisons, resulting in a patchwork of inconsistent policies.

Gov. Ivey listed what constitutes severe, high-level, medium-level, and low-level violations and the sanctions that will result from those violations.
Gov. Ivey listed what constitutes severe, high-level, medium-level, and low-level violations and the sanctions that will result from those violations. (Mike Cason)

Only a small portion, about 9 percent of Alabama inmates, are eligible for good time, according to the Associated Press, citing information from the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

In an executive order, Ivey listed what constitutes severe, high-level, medium-level, and low-level violations and the sanctions that will result from those violations, including the loss of good time earned. The order sets guidelines for inmates to apply to have good time restored.

“This lays out more concrete procedures on the awarding of that correctional incentive time, but more importantly on the restoration, once that time has been taken away,” Hamm said. “It has concrete procedures on restoring that correctional incentive time. I think that is important for staff as well as the inmates.”

Critics said the new rules are harsh and will diminish hope for those incarcerated in prisons plagued by violence, overcrowding, and a severe shortage of correctional officers.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who has proposed changes in sentencing laws and parole board reforms, said the new rules will punish inmates for protesting conditions that the U.S. Department of Justice alleges violate the constitution. For example, the new rules list “encouraging or causing a work stoppage” as a high-level violation that will result in an inmate losing three years of accrued good time. Alabama inmates participated in a strike last fall to protest conditions.

“Good time should be reserved for those who’ve earned it and those who deserve it,” England said. “But at the same time, let’s actually make the violations something that’s actually punishable so you’re just not using it to silence opposition.”

England said the new rules are an example of the failure of Alabama officials to tackle the root causes of the conditions in Alabama prisons, including the overcrowding, understaffing, violence, and corruption cited by the DOJ.

“Let’s deal with the problems,” England said. “Let’s actually address overcrowding. Let’s see if we can figure out a real solution to our pardons and paroles situation. The things that actually contribute to these things and not just punish people to make them be quiet.”

Carla Crowder, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that advocates for criminal justice reforms, said the new rules take the state in the wrong direction.

“This is absurd and reflects state leadership that is completely out of touch with the public safety crisis in Alabama prisons,” Crowder said in a press release. “This order essentially ends good time or makes it extremely difficult for anyone to earn it given the brutal conditions across the prison system.”

Crowder noted that “failure to obey a direct order of an ADOC employee” is classified as a high-level violation.

“This is a common violation which will now result in three years of lost good time,” Crowder said. “Has anyone done the math on how this will impact prison populations?”

Hamm said he believes the new rules and more uniform policy can help strengthen the incentive for inmates to do what it takes to accrue and maintain good time.

“That’s our goal,” Hamm said. “We’re starting to work immediately on changing our policies, our training for our staff and also notifying inmates. Because that’s one of the important things, is making sure the inmates have been communicated this policy change. And I think once they have received that communication and understand it, it should work out well.”

Ivey said she supported good time but said it has to be limited to those who earn it.

“Anyone who understands how to effectively run a corrections system understands that when done right, good time is critical,” the governor said. “I do not support being lenient on offenders eligible for reductions in their sentences to be rewarded when they have behavioral issues while serving their time in prison. Our action today lays out clear rules and expectations for our inmates as well as the corrections staff and very clearly empowers Commissioner Hamm and his folks to enforce the law.”

Ivey and Hamm made the announcement at a press conference on a day they also marked as National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. They were joined by Montgomery Police Chief Darryl J. Albert and state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville.

Chambliss, a member of the governor’s study group in criminal justice policy that met in 2019 and issued recommendations in 2020, said he believes the new rules will help distinguish the inmates who are good candidates for good time.

“These are tough problems. These are hard policies to develop and to implement,” Chambliss said. “But these policies in my opinion, and hopefully you will see, will give clear guidance and will separate those who are trying to do the right thing and trying to rehabilitate themselves and trying to be good, model citizens when they get out of prison from those who are just gaming the system.”

Most inmates in Alabama prisons are ineligible for good time. Inmates with sentences longer than 15 years and those convicted of Class A felonies or sex offenses involving a child don’t qualify. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill to make more inmates ineligible — anyone convicted of causing the death of another person by means of a deadly weapon, such as under a manslaughter charge.

That came in response to the fatal shooting of Sheffield Police Sgt. Nick Risner in October 2021 in Muscle Shoals. The man charged in Risner’s death had qualified for good time and was released from prison in 2016 after serving about one-third of a 10-year sentence for manslaughter. Brian Lansing Martin of Sheffield is charged with capital murder in the slayings of Risner and William Mealback Jr., and attempted murder in the shooting of Sheffield Lt. Max Dotson, who survived.

The governor’s order amends the ADOC’s policies on how it responds to escapes and classifies escapes as a severe violation resulting in forfeiture of all good time and eligibility to earn good time. The order says the ADOC will notify other law enforcement agencies about escapes to help recapture inmates as quickly as possible.

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