2 weeks 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.

54 mins ago

University of Alabama research: What aged often want for Christmas is … you

Christmas arrives yet again and with it that familiar seasonal joy but also stress. Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa are getting older, and ideas for gifts have run thin – very thin – for quite some time.

What could they possibly want?

Christina Pierpaoli-Parker, a University of Alabama student pursuing her doctorate in clinical geropsychology has conducted research that provides some answers.


“One of the benefits of aging is that it shifts your perspective, helps to reorder your priorities,” she said. “The psychological data demonstrate that overall quality of life and happiness tend to increase as we age.

“That pattern almost takes on a U-shaped curve where, on one end, earlier in life, happiness and quality of life tend to be pretty high before declining somewhat in our late 30s into midlife, as we try to establish ourselves financially, socially, professionally and romantically. But, as we age, usually around our 60s, our overall levels of happiness and quality of life tend to increase again.”

Pierpaoli-Parker said these trends appear during later life because of social-emotional selectivity theory — when people get closer to their deaths, their priorities shift from seeking information, knowledge, money and resources toward seeking meaningful emotional experiences.

“We want to spend more time doing things that we value with the people we love.”

So, what do people get their aging parents?

“In general, they don’t want stuff,” she said. “They want you. They want to spend time with their children, their grandchildren, and savor those experiences.”

So, instead of spending money on fancy things, Pierpaoli-Parker said more meaningful and affordable gift ideas for aging loved ones might include getting tickets to see a play or a movie, planning a trip or making dinner together.

“Invest in experiences. Focus on experience-based products versus object-based products. With experiences, you can spend a lot of money or make it homemade. However you do it, you can design it in such a way that it honors your values and your wallet.”

When do people make the cognitive switch from desiring object-oriented gifts to experiential gifts?

That, she said, depends on the individual and his or her life experiences.

She said research has demonstrated that some people who have a chronic disease early in life have already made this shift in cognition. But, generally, that mindset isn’t adopted until middle-to-later life, usually around the 50s or 60s. She notes, however, that it varies from person to person, context to context.

“The most important thing to emphasize here is the best gifts really come from a place of genuineness, thoughtfulness and love,” she said. “Time is the scarcest, nonrenewable, valuable resource that humans have. That idea becomes more salient with age.

“And, that’s why, as we age, time with other people is the best gift we can receive. When we don’t worry about the outcome of the gift and enjoy the process of giving it, that takes away the anxiety and stress and makes it a lot more fun. Process, not performance.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

ADCNR named Agency of Year at Sportsmen’s Caucus Summit

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently received special recognition by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with the presentation of the State Agency of the Year Award at the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Greensboro, Georgia.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is honored to recognize the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as the State Agency of the Year,” said Jeff Crane, CSF President. “The DCNR has been a consistent supporter of CSF, NASC, and the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and, through this support, the Caucus in Alabama has grown tremendously to become a strong and effective voice for sportsmen and women. CSF thanks Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes for their continued support and steadfast dedication to Alabama’s vast natural resources.”


Hosted by the CSF, this year’s Summit brought together 50 legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies to discuss the theme “Partners Advancing America’s Conservation Movement: NASC, Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Industry and NGOs.” Topics discussed included promoting hunting and fishing, boating access, chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spread of invasive Asian carp and a variety of other issues affecting sportsmen and women.

“This is the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators who come together to discuss issues that are of great importance to our hunting and angling traditions,” Crane said. “The 16th Annual NASC Summit was successful in that it brought together our bipartisan caucus leaders and members, fish and wildlife agency leaders, NGO (non-governmental organizations) representatives, and leading industry partners to focus on how to advance opportunities for sportsmen and women and to ensure sound, science-driven conservation policies are enacted.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship said he was elated that the Department was awarded the CSF’s State Agency of the Year.

“We were very happy that we were recognized for multiple initiatives by the Department,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Foundation noted several reasons for the recognition, starting with Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and all the work that has been done with red snapper. Alabama has been the leader in securing the state management of red snapper. The work we did in Congress helped inform the legislators on the issues on the Gulf Coast with the short seasons. We were able to work with the congressional delegations in Washington to implement the exempted fishing program (EFP) for the past two years and then win approval of management for the long-term.”

The EFP was in effect for the 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons. Each of the Gulf states was given a snapper allocation, and each state managed its allocation.

Alabama’s quota was slightly more than a million pounds of red snapper in each of the two years of the EFP. The timely data from the mandatory Alabama Snapper Check program allowed Marine Resources to manage to the quota each year.

This year the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed regional management of red snapper. That amendment is awaiting the signature of the Secretary of Commerce and will go into effect for 2020 and beyond.

“The Foundation also recognized the work that Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes is doing with Senator (Doug) Jones (D-Alabama) and Senator (Cindy) Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) concerning funding for CWD research as well as the work Chuck is doing as the president of SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) on a myriad of hunting and fishing initiatives,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have also worked with Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, Senator (Lamar) Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Senator (Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Asian carp issues. We want to reduce Asian carp populations in Tennessee and Kentucky rivers and keep them contained in the rivers upstream that flow into Alabama.”

WFF’s Sykes said a great deal of the recognition from the CSF was due to Alabama’s willingness to meet and discuss the issues that are facing the nation’s sportsmen and women.

“The Department has allowed me to come to the CSF’s Summits to share a variety of programs we are doing,” said Sykes, who also serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “I’ve spoken at three of the last four events. The hunting and fishing days that the Department has promoted were mentioned as well as our CWD response plan and major educational campaign. The Foundation said they appreciated the time I had taken to come and participate in roundtable discussions with legislators around the country on important issues, from funding to our R3 efforts.”

The R3 effort stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Those R3 activities try to recruit new participants or increase participation rates of current or lapsed outdoor enthusiasts.

Sykes also said the Foundation recognized the contributions of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Area (SOA) and adult mentored hunting programs, programs in the Alabama Black Belt and the promotion of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Day annually to help educate legislators on outdoors issues and improve Caucus participation and increase Caucus membership.

“Our legislators were happy to see the Department recognized,” Sykes said.

Commissioner Blankenship said the State Lands Division, under Director Patti McCurdy, contributed through its efforts to expand public boating access in Alabama. McCurdy has worked with the staffs in D.C. to continue to promote recreational access funding in Coastal Alabama. Through several funding sources, improvements to boating and angling access are planned for Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County, and the Middleton Causeway site on Battleship Parkway at the north end of Mobile Bay, Foley and Daphne.

Commissioner Blankenship also cited the work of Bee Frederick, who was the CSF’s representative in Alabama until recently, for holding annual events in Montgomery to promote the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“Bee was very helpful in getting the legislators more involved in hunting and fishing issues and helping us provide the scientific and management information to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Caucus’ legislative agenda has been very helpful for the Department and people who hunt and fish in Alabama. The award highlights the work we do in Washington and in Montgomery with the Alabama Legislature. I think those relationships we built in Washington and here at the State House are very valuable when issues come up that affect sportsmen and women. We can pick up the phone and discuss the issues with the legislators or their staff. I think we have built a great amount of trust that we will provide them with balanced information so they can make good decisions.”

Other than naming the Alabama DCNR as State Agency of the Year, the CSF handed out several other awards at the Georgia Summit.

The Friends of NASC Award went to Shimano American Corp. and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

NASC Heritage Awards were presented to Rep. David Wilson (CT), Sen. Mike Bell (TN), Sen. Mark Allen (OK), and Rep. Casey Snider (UT).

During the Summit, CSF announced the signing of a partnership with Birmingham-based B.A.S.S. to further conservation efforts. Safari Club International (SCI) was also recognized for its long-standing financial support of NASC and the annual summit.

Founded in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was formed to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

12 hours ago

Huntsville Police officer shot, killed in the line of duty — Sixth Alabama LEO slain this year

A 20-year veteran Huntsville Police Department officer on Friday evening was shot and killed in the line of duty.

The officer’s name is expected to be released on Saturday. The suspect, whose name also has yet to be released, is in custody.

Huntsville PD Chief Mark McMurray during a press conference confirmed the officer’s death, outlining that the officer was shot in the heart during a drug-related task force operation and later was pronounced dead at an area hospital. The officer was reportedly wearing a bullet proof vest when the shooting occurred.

Following Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams’ death most recently, this Huntsville officer becomes the sixth Alabama law enforcement officer slain in the line of duty in 2019.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town of the Northern District of Alabama released a statement, saying, “All of Alabama is heartbroken again as another Alabama peace officer is gunned down in the line of duty.”


“The Huntsville Police Department investigator, whose name will be released tomorrow, will always be remembered as a good man and a fine officer. Those of us who knew him admired his dedication and professionalism. We must now direct our prayers to his grieving family and pull together in full support of the Huntsville Police Department and law enforcement everywhere who lost another brother of the badge tonight. I am beyond grief,” Town concluded.

Governor Kay Ivey also released a statement.

“I am grieved to hear of the Huntsville Police Officer killed in the line of duty and extend my deepest sympathies and prayers to his family for their unimaginable loss,” the governor stated. “It has been an exceptionally tough year for our law enforcement community, and this will be felt across our state.”

“I will also be praying for strength for the Huntsville Police as they grieve the loss of their fellow officer, as well as for their continued protection as they keep us safe. May the Lord’s peace that passes all understanding be with the family and everyone who loved this dedicated officer,” Ivey added.

Oxford Police Department Chief Bill Partridge, who is president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, tweeted, “It seems the attack on our brothers and sisters of law enforcement continues. We have lost another officer tonight to gunfire. Please keep the Huntsville Police Department and the family of the fallen officer in your prayers. This assault must stop!”

In addition to the Huntsville PD officer and Sheriff Williams, Tuscaloosa Police Department Investigator Dornell Cousette, Mobile Police Department Officer Sean Tuder, Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner and Birmingham Police Sergeant Wytasha Carter have been shot and killed in the line of duty this year.

State Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville), a former police chief in the city, posted a powerful tribute about the unmanned officer on Facebook.

“He always wanted to be in drug enforcement, that’s all he talked about as a young officer. He worked the streets diligently until he got his dream assignment,” Reynolds wrote. “Now he is the victim of a murder, killed trying to make our community safer. There are mean evil people in this world that have no respect for human life.”

“I pray for his family, our officers, our Chief that tried to provide comfort in the worst of times, and I pray for the families and the officers that graduated the police academy this morning,” he concluded. “There is no reasoning. Bad day for the good guys.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle stated, “Our City is broken hearted tonight.”

“All of Huntsville mourns along with the Huntsville Police Department and the family and friends of our fallen officer. We owe a continual and deep debt of gratitude to the men and women in law enforcement who protect our community every day. Let it never be taken for granted the sacrifice that officers make to keep us safe,” the mayor continued.

Battle advised, “We stand side by side with our police department and in the days, weeks and months ahead – have no doubt – we will use the full extent of the law to bring the perpetrator to justice.”

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

13 hours ago

Ivey lights official Alabama Christmas Tree

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Air Force General James B. Hecker, a children’s choir and several hundred of their fellow Alabamians gathered on the capitol steps Friday evening to light Alabama’s official 2019 Christmas tree.

The tree, standing 34-ft tall, was decorated with tens of thousands of lights as well as special ornaments marking Alabama’s bicentennial.

“Christmas is a direct reminder of the hope we find in Christ,” Ivey said in her remarks.

Caroline Blades, age 4, talked to Yellowhammer after the event. She agreed with her dad that the tree was “really pretty’ and that it “was cool to see other kids up there.”


At the event, Ivey made sure to remember the Americans serving in the armed forces, saying, “[T]his time of year it’s important to remember the brave men and women, away from home, protecting us.”

Lieutenant General James B. Hecker, commander and president, Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, followed the governor in speaking. He said, “There is not a state in the country that welcomes their military members like Alabama.”

Watch the lighting here or below:

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

16 hours ago

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson: No plans to seek higher office beyond Mobile Mayor

MOBILE — Whenever there is an opening for a high-profile statewide office, one of the names always mentioned as a potential candidate for that office is Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

As of late, the city of Mobile has had a good run under Stimpson’s leadership with the growth of Austal USA and Airbus Mobile while Stimpson has won two mayoral elections in Alabama’s port city. Those are the hallmarks of a potential political up-and-comer and make Stimpson a viable candidate for higher office in the eyes of some political watchers.

However, Stimpson says not to expect him to throw his hat into the ring for any higher office beyond mayor any time soon.

During a wide-ranging interview about economic development, infrastructure and education policy on location in Mobile with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Stimpson dismissed the possibility of having any political ambitions outside of Coastal Alabama.


“We all have choices to make, and my choice was to stay married to the lady I’ve been married to for a number of years,” Stimpson said. “I’m not going to change that, and so as long as that’s the way it is, I’m going to stay right where I am. But I’m honored that somebody would suggest to think that I could run for a higher office.”

According to Stimpson, he sees one of the keys to Mobile’s success as having longevity and stability at the helm. He also pointed to situations in two of South Carolina’s major cities as an example.

“We still have a whole lot of work to do in Mobile. It takes a number of years to really understand all the dynamics of being a mayor. When I look at some of the cities that have been very successful — Greenville, South Carolina or Charleston — you have a mayor that’s been there 12 or 16, or in Charleston’s case 40 years. That won’t be me. But it does take a while, and if you start getting the momentum going and things are going right in the city, it’s important to support that.”

@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.