Much like last year with the gas tax, legislators know that the issue of prisons is looming, and they are trying to get out ahead of it.
And like the gas tax play, it appears a special session during the 2020 regular session will be used.
We have been hearing for a while now that Governor Kay Ivey will consider calling for a special session to address this problem and State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), now a candidate for the Alabama state Supreme Court, confirmed as much during an appearance on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Wednesday.
In addition, Ward called for legislators to take an outside the box approach to the issue.
Ward said the issue is significantly more complex than it has been made out to be, saying, “First of all, everyone wants one bill, one solution, and these aren’t one bill one solution issues.”
He warned that mass release was not going to be a solution, making it clear that would be a risk to “public safety.”
Ward added, “I think the bulk of any kind of prison reform is gonna be rehabilitation and alternative programming,” and suggested that outside the box approaches, such as drug rehabilitation programs, mental health initiatives and veterans courts, are the most effective means to solve the overarching problem of overpopulation.
Can this be done without massive sentencing reform? Ward says he thinks so.
“You can do this and in a way that everybody, everybody wants to be Conservative about it, but two, it can be solved in a way that doesn’t require a lot of new sentencing changes,” he advised.
There will still probably be a building of new prison capacity and that will likely be done by Kay Ivey and Kay Ivey alone.
He explained why the governor’s office could make a unilateral move, saying, “The reason they can do it without us is because they don’t need additional revenue.”
How that plays out remains to be seen. Ward is right: This issue is not one that is going to be solved with one bill. It is complex and evolving and needs to be looked at from multiple angles.
The legislature will be absolutely thrilled to have the governor’s office handle a bulk of this issue on her own.
They won’t have to deal with voting to spend money on prison instead of schools, kids, healthcare, public safety and whatever other issues you care about.
She takes the heat, the prisons get built, they pass some slight reform laws and the issue goes away.
While I still think there are going to be some fights on this issue come next year, this is, for now, the best plan being suggested.