State Sen. Cam Ward: Justice Department ‘OK’ with delaying prison special session until early 2020
It has been three-and-a-half months since the Department of Justice released its scathing report hammering the state of Alabama for having prisons in violation of the Eighth Amendment and with an implied warning there could be serious consequences if the state doesn’t act to rectify the problem.
Although nothing was done in the 2019 general legislative session to address the problem, a problem that was mentioned by Gov. Kay Ivey in both her inaugural and State of the State addresses, it is expected she will call a special session in the future to tackle the issue.
During an appearance on Alabama Public Televisions’s “Capitol Journal” this week, State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) explained the main holdup was getting data from the Sentencing Commission, which would direct the legislature on how to proceed on sentencing reform. Ward suggested early 2020 for the special session, with which he said the Justice Department was “OK.”
“Let’s get the data right,” Ward said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s go all in. Everybody focuses on let’s pass something to fix it. But the data that we need comes from the Sentencing Commission, and they’ve really worked hard on this. However, it is going to take them until late September to come up with the data we need on what sentencing changes we need to make this work right.”
“So, I think realistically you’re talking about the first of the year,” he continued. “And the Department of Justice – they’re OK with that. They know we’re trying to work on it. They know we’re trying to fix it. So, I think let’s take our time. Let’s get this right. But yeah, you have a special session but let’s do it in 2020.”
The Shelby County Republican lawmaker indicated there was progress being made on the getting things to where the legislature would be able to act.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” Ward explained. “We’re making progress. We’re showing that we’re making progress and that’s what they really want to see. But let’s get it right. Let’s don’t pass something for the sake of passing a bill. Let’s pass something that works. Let’s get all the stakeholders together. Let’s take our time. We’re doing that now, but I think it’s going to take until early next year to get it done right.”
Later in the segment, host Don Dailey followed up with a question specifically about the DoJ’s satisfaction with the state’s timeline.
“I think they are,” he said. “And we’ve shown that we’re serious about trying to solve this. What their biggest concern is: Are we trying to shirk our responsibilities or just turn a blind eye to it. We haven’t. They know we’re working on it. They know we’re having meetings. They’ve been included in some of those meetings, so I think we’re in good shape.”