8 months ago

State Rep. Simpson: Sentencing reform ‘not needed’ to satisfy DoJ on prison reform — Calls for more prisons, truth in sentencing

With just over 70 days until the 2020 legislative general session, there is a high probability at the top of the list of priorities will be prison reform.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report outlining its concerns with the Alabama Department of Corrections’ prison facilities, which it said could violate the “cruel and unusual punishment” provision of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One proposal offered by lawmakers, including Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and others, is to take on sentencing reform, which in theory would lessen sentences for some crimes and potentially lessen the burden on overcrowded prisons.

Count State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) as a “no” on sentencing reform as a potential component to prison reform in 2020. During an appearance on Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Simpson argued against sentencing reform.

“It is not as cut and dried as some people are trying to make it seem,” he said. “The Department of Justice – what their report indicated, you know, there’s different things we have to take care of. We have to take care of overcrowding. We have to take care of the inmates that we have in there to make sure they’re safe where they are. No one deserves to be unsafe where they are, no matter what crime they have committed. So we have to take care of the people we are responsible to take care of because they’re in prison.”

“That next step is where I really can’t get on board when people are talking about sentencing reform,” he continued. “I don’t think sentencing reform – I don’t think it is needed. I don’t think it is necessary. I know in the Department of Justice report that they issued out, sentencing reform is not mentioned in that report. I think some people like to take an opportunity when you’re looking at prisons, and when you’re looking at what’s going on to include sentencing reform in there. I don’t think it is needed. I think the data is what we’ve been told, and what we’ve been shown is the people who are in prison currently are people that need to be in prison. You have a lot of Class A, Class B felons that are in prison. You have a lot of repeat offenders that are in prison. It’s not your first-time offender. It’s not your non-violent [offender]. There’s just not a lot of people that are in there just for drugs. So, I don’t think we need to have sentencing reform. I don’t think we need to bring that down.”

Simpson, who was a career prosecutor prior to his election to the Alabama legislature in 2018, warned lessening the consequences of a crime would weaken corrections as a deterrent.

“I would be against sentencing reform based on what I know,” Simpson said. “I was a prosecutor for 12 years. I know how difficult it is for somebody to be sent to prison. I know how fast people are being released from prison. Now, that may have changed recently with the appointment of Charlie Graddick as the director of Pardons and Paroles, and I think they’re doing a good job there in keeping people there that need to be there. I know Judge Graddick well, and I respect the job he has done. I don’t think that we need to focus and say, ‘How do we get more people out?’ If you read Attorney General Steve Marshall’s letter to the editor that he sent out to the state this week, you see that it is violent offenders that are there. Part of our prison system, part of our justice system, is not just to rehabilitate. Rehabilitate is an important factor. We need to make sure people can have jobs when they get out. We need to make sure these people have a trade when they get out that they can be productive members of society. Ninety-five percent of the people that go to prison are going to get out.”

“I respect everything about making sure that they can be productive members of society afterward,” he continued. “However, we have a responsibility for the victims of crime to make sure if someone commits a violent offense, if somebody does something to harm another person, that person needs to be sent away. We need to be able to show someone there’s punishment for committing a crime. We need to be able to show the community that if this person commits this crime, they’re going to go away for a while. If you’re sitting next to someone – imagine, a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid and you’re in class, and you see someone has committed a violent felony, and the next day they’re right back in class, what deterrent do you have to say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to commit that violent felony. We have to be able to say you’re going to go away. If you do the crime, you’re going to do the time, especially if you’re talking violent felonies.”

“Our prison system right now – at least 75% of the people in there are violent felonies, or they’re Class A or Class B,” Simpson added. “And if we don’t follow the rule of law, if people get in and they get sentenced to 10 or 15-year sentences and they actually only serve only six months or eight months, which is generally what they’re doing before Judge Graddick took over – that’s a problem. That’s a problem in our society, and I don’t know that sentencing reform is the answer here.”

According to the Baldwin County Republican, an appropriate measure would be to expand prison capacity and apply truth to sentencing, which he argued would also correct sentencing issues.

“I think you have to do capacity,” he said. “I think you have to build more prisons to add more people to be there. I think one of the more important things you have to ask for is truth in sentencing. And what that means is if you’re sentencing someone for the crime they committed, they should do that time or around 85% of that time, and that’s going to bring your sentences down because right now, if you know – I can tell you right now a 10-year sentence is about six months. A 15-year sentence is about eight months in the Department of Corrections. Preface everything I say that was before Judge Graddick. But if you’re sentencing someone and you know they’re only going to be in prison for six months, well then you’re not going to come down on your sentence. You’re not going to say I’ll give you a year and a day, or I’ll give you 18 months. You’re going to say, ‘Well, I’ll give you 10 years,’ and you’ll do six months and you’ll be right back out on the street. If we had truth in sentencing – if we could tell someone, if we could tell a victim – you look a victim in the eye and you say this person that assaulted you, or this person that did something to you – this person will be in jail for four years. They’re going to go for four years – four years to the day when they go to sleep at night, there’s going to be a clang of the door, and they’re going to have their head on a pillow, and it’s going to be laid out behind bars somewhere. Right now, we can’t do that at all. We’re telling people I have no idea how long the people are going to be in the Department of Corrections. It’s completely up to them. They may be out in six months. That’s what you have to tell a victim, and it’s tough. It’s tough to be a part of that. And that’s not what everybody sees on the day-to-day operations on how our prison system currently is operating.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

23 mins ago

Alabama basketball star John Petty returning for senior season

University of Alabama star forward John Petty, Jr. will return for his senior season, the player announced on Monday.

The Huntsville native was a second-team All-SEC honoree this past season, after leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage.

Petty was considering entering the 2020 NBA Draft, however he decided to return for a final season in Tuscaloosa after evaluating his prospects. Another college season could see Petty lock down his chance at being a first-round pick.

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Tide head coach Nate Oats released a statement on Monday afternoon celebrating Petty’s return.

“It’s great to have John back for his senior year,” Oats said. “He is certainly one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country which is extremely important to us with how we play.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal. Let’s get to work!” the coach concluded.

Follow along with the Bama men’s basketball program here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

41 mins ago

State of Alabama, University of Alabama System officials unveil GuideSafe app aiming to keep schools virus-free

Key figures from Alabama’s government and university systems joined to announced the new GuideSafe platform that bills itself as the key for students to safely return to college campuses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The GuideSafe platform will help the state fulfill its promise to test every single college student before they return to campus, and the platform will provide a space for ongoing health monitoring throughout the semester.

The unveiling took place over videoconference, where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and other key players detailed the importance of GuideSafe to the upcoming semester.

GuideSafe was developed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and tech company MotionMobs. It will be provided to any educational institution in the state that wishes to use it.

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Governor Kay Ivey apportioned some of Alabama’s CARES Act funds for the development of GuideSafe and the universal free testing for college students.

St. John on Monday praised Ivey’s “decisive action to provide funding” for the testing initiative and other campus reopening measures.

(Click for higher resolution version that will open in new tab)

GuideSafe will be accessible via app on smartphones and tablets and via web browser on any computer. Students will be invited to join the platform in the coming weeks.

One of the key features of the GuideSafe app is that it will track the location of students via smartphone and then inform them if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall,” said UAB President Ray Watts.

The app also allows students and faculty to report symptoms as they experience them, and get directed to a nearby testing site if necessary.

“The combination of these tools enables every participating college, university and K-12 school to engage faculty, students and staff regarding on-going monitoring of symptoms, exposure and risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.

A general factsheet on GuideSafe is available here.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

56 mins ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

The cancellation of in-class schooling should lead to more school choice, not less

The global coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on our way of life, our economy, our politics, and with school about to start for most Americans, it is about to change how that institution works as well.

Reportedly, one-third of Alabama’s school systems will start fully online and two-thirds of schools will open with in-class options.

Each school system has these options at their disposal, and the local systems should do what they feel is best.

Parents, however, are at the mercy of elected officials and school administrators who more often than not will defer to the whims of the all-powerful education associations that still dominate local, state and federal elections.

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The Alabama Education Associaton (AEA) is still around and still a player. In spite of their lack of popular support, Republican and Democratic politicians bow to them.

And why shouldn’t they? These groups are still able to motivate teachers and generate campaign contributions.

Is the AEA as powerful as it used to be? Obviously not. Is it still strong? Yes, very.

The school systems that have completely shelved the beginning of the school year for an online-only option are now leaving some parents in a lurch with young kids at home and no way to teach them and earn an income themselves.

But if you are an educator, you are in luck. The school systems are working to provide teachers with the ability to bring their children to school.

Huntsville City Schools has not made this choice yet, and wouldn’t you know it, but teachers are rather annoyed by this.

(Note: I shared the following posts on Facebook and many of those involved were aghast that their Facebook posts were shared, so I will just quote them)

I have 3 littles and am waiting to hear from the district so I can plan for them. You are right, when teacher mommies and daddies know that their own personal children are cared for, it makes it so much easier to go above and beyond for the children of others.

Could it work that teachers could bring their kids, The kids would be disbursed to the appropriate grade and taught in class. Mom would teach her grade level and when school is over they would go home. Their kids would be the lucky ones.

Have you heard anything about our educators, who are teaching remotely, being able to take their school-age children to their classroom? They only have a few days left to make plans.

These teachers will be allowed to bring their kids to work, and they will get what they want.

Parents? Deal with it.

Your “littles” aren’t “the lucky ones.”

You “mommies and daddies” don’t need the assurance that your “children are cared for” so you can perform.

This is embarrassing but telling. They have the stroke and they call the shots.

And why shouldn’t they? Alabama schools are 51st out of 50, so give them more power. Help kill the school year for everyone and then demand the school systems take on the responsibility and liability — and there is a liability here — so teachers can keep working.

Yes, yes, what about those babies?

The decision-makers are risk-averse, but they are also in a situation where they want to take care of the teachers.

But this is not the only concern at play.

Alabama’s political leaders should demand a special session be called to allow all parents who want their children to have the opportunity to be enrolled in an in-person classroom to have that option.

If the local school district says “no school for nine weeks,” 85% of the monies spent on their child should be given to the parents to make other plans.

This is the same percentage of money parents who take advantage of the Alabama Accountability Act receive, which teachers and their politicians hate, too.

But that’s how this works: perks for them but you just take what they decide.

What kind of assistance can this provide?

Private school? Parenting pod? Hiring childcare?

Make the parents produce receipts to get the money. It is unacceptable that the leadership has left actual parents out in the cold like this.

Something should be done for these parents. Unfortunately, nothing will be done unless your kids are one of the “lucky ones.”

Educators and politicians have left parents and students out on this one, so when this is all said and done, don’t be surprised if the push for vouchers and school choice grows.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN

2 hours ago

Alabama-built ship recovers astronauts after first crewed SpaceX mission

While SpaceX is just about the only major American aerospace company without a presence in the Yellowhammer State, Sunday’s completion of the historic Demo-2 mission still managed to have an Alabama connection.

Demo-2 was SpaceX’s first-ever crewed mission for NASA and the first crewed orbital launch to depart from the United States since the final flight of the space shuttle program in July 2011.

The mission lifted off on May 30, when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket powered Endeavour from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a one-day trip, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the International Space Station.

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On Sunday, the Endeavour Capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, with the two astronauts strapped inside. This marked the first crewed ocean return since July 1975. The Endeavour’s splashdown was also the first Gulf of Mexico return to Earth in NASA history.

The SpaceX recovery ship GO Navigator met Endeavour and hoisted the capsule aboard shortly after it landed in the water off the coast of Pensacola, FL.

GO Navigator was built by Master Boat Builders, which is located in Coden, AL.

An unincorporated community in southern Mobile County, Coden is located near Bayou La Batre.

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who is the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, highlighted Master Boat Builders’ contribution to the mission.

“I am so proud of the fact that Master Boat Builders in Coden, AL is playing a key role in history, with the recovery of the Space X mission today. Go Navigator was built by the Rice Family / Master Boat Builders in 2010,” Carl said in a Sunday Facebook post.

GO Navigator joined SpaceX’s recovery fleet in August 2018. Since then, it has gradually been upgraded to meet advanced mission needs. The vessel is now equipped with a medical treatment facility and helipad for emergency situations.

Its sister ship, GO Searcher, was also built by Master Boat Builders. The vessels typically work in tandem on SpaceX recovery missions.

You can view video footage from GO Navigator’s recovery efforts on Sunday here.

Since the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, Russian-made rockets and spacecraft had ferried astronauts to the International Space Station before Demo-2.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are part of NASA’s push to begin what is essentially a commercial space taxi service to the space station.

“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight,” commented NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Boeing’s Starliner was designed in Huntsville and is launched into space by an Alabama-built, United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket. The Starliner program hopes to conduct its first crewed mission to the International Space Station in 2021.

Starliner made history last year, becoming the first-ever American orbital space capsule to land on U.S. soil when it touched down at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on December 22.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn