4 months ago

Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy delivers recommendations to Ivey — ‘Urgent need to act’

MONTGOMERY — Former Alabama Associate Justice Champ Lyons on Thursday delivered a letter to Governor Kay Ivey detailing the recommendations of the governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy.

Lyons is chairman of the bipartisan study group, which was established last year via an Ivey executive order to receive and analyze accurate data, as well as evidence of best practices, ultimately helping to further address the serious challenges facing Alabama’s corrections system.

The group’s formation in 2019 came after the Department of Justice concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding “cruel and unusual punishment.” The DOJ also implied that if measures were not taken to improve the situation, the prison system could face action from the federal government, which could come in the form of a takeover.

The governor’s study group met for the last time earlier this month and subsequently submitted a comprehensive report to Ivey that includes all of the testimony and research the group encountered. Ivey’s press secretary explained that the governor has remained “engaged with Justice Lyons on the group’s discussions.”

Lyons’ letter delivered Thursday warned of “the urgent need to act” on the recommendations.

“The members of our bipartisan, intragovernmental Study Group do not see eye-to-eye on every policy proposal that came before us. But we do agree on one thing: That the challenges facing our prison system are serious and require a sustained commitment to action, both now and into the future,” Lyons wrote.

Besides Lyons, who served as chair because he was Ivey’s designated proxy, the study group consisted of the attorney general; three members of the Alabama House of Representatives appointed by the speaker of the House; three members of the Senate appointed by the president pro tempore; the state commissioner of corrections; and the state director of finance. Proxies were allowed for each member of the study group.

Legislative members of the study group included: State Senators Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and State Representatives Jim Hill (R-Moody), Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) and Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa).

Lyons wrote to the governor, “We recognize that your Administration, working with the Legislature, has already begun to take meaningful steps to address this situation. But we cannot rest on our laurels.”

“If we try to adhere to the status quo and decline to spend necessary funds to improve the situation now, we risk burdensome remedies imposed by a federal court—remedies that could be far costlier to the State than some of the proposals that have been discussed in our Study Group and that are available to us now at lower cost,” he advised. “Moreover, we do not want to find ourselves in the position of California in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court held that California’s prison system violated inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights and affirmed a three-judge panel’s order to decrease the population of California’s prisons by an estimated 46,000 inmates.”

“In short, too much is at stake—for crime victims, for inmates, for DOC employees, and ultimately for the cause of public safety itself—for us not to seize this moment and continue building on the efforts of your Administration that are already underway,” Lyons added.

The letter stressed a “new commitment to reducing recidivism,” calling that a “broad point of consensus.”

Conversely, Lyons noted sentencing guidelines as a general point of disagreement that “we will not likely resolve soon.”

The study group’s specific recommendations were broken down into three categories: “(1) proposals related to operations of the Department of Corrections; (2) proposals related to sentencing laws; and (3) proposals related to reducing recidivism.”

Related to the operations of ADOC, the study group recommended increased legislative oversight of the department, as well as increased state appropriations for the department.

Next, of sentencing reform, Lyons wrote, “[M]y sense is that the Study Group members wish to proceed with great caution in this area.”

“I believe that Study Group members could support very narrowly drafted legislation granting targeted, retroactive sentencing relief to certain categories of nonviolent offenders,” he explained, before outlining three recommendations aimed to fit that description.

Finally, for reducing recividism, Lyons pointed to recommendations covering increased funding for in-custody educational programs; positively incentivizing prisoners to get an education while in custody; which individuals are mandated to undergo pre-release supervision; providing inmates with government ID upon their release; increased flexibility of parolee officers’ working hours; expansion of an existing mental health program; and further study of community corrections programs.

Lyons then closed with some parting thoughts.

In part, he wrote, “Finally, and most importantly, let me reiterate that we will not be able to address all of our prison challenges in a single legislative session or a single budget year. The challenges we have inherited are multifaceted and complex. They are longstanding. And they will require spending significant sums of taxpayer money. But by taking actions like the ones we have identified, I firmly believe that it is possible to set Alabama on a course to operating a prison system that will withstand scrutiny in the courts while ultimately enhancing public safety.”

Read the full recommendations here.

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

7 hours ago

Jones: ‘Whole lot of blame to go around’ for COVID deaths — Points to Trump administration, China, WHO

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) on Thursday hosted a live-streamed availability with Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris regarding the coronavirus.

Jones and Harris each made opening remarks, including updates on Alabama’s COVID-19 data as well as ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic.

The two officials then answered questions from members of the media that were submitted ahead of time.

For example, Jones was asked, “What would you tell people now that the number of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. has surpassed 100,000? Many commentators are blaming the White House response. And are the current reopening strategies of Alabama and other states premature?”

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“Well, you know, look, I’ve seen the commentators — and I don’t think we’re at a point where we should be pointing a whole lot of blame,” Jones answered, before appearing to do just that.

“There’s a whole lot of blame to go around,” he continued. “I think we have to point to China for some of the issues that they raised. I was disappointed at some of the early response from the [World Health Organization], even though we could have done a better job with testing in this country.”

Jones then placed some “blame” at the feet of President Donald J. Trump and his administration.

“I’ve been disappointed in the administration and their early responses,” the junior senator advised. “You talk about ‘cavalier attitudes,’ I think the president had one early on. All of that has, perhaps, affected where we are in this country.”

“But I think the key right now is where we are today and what we’re planning on doing going forward,” Jones added.

He subsequently questioned the notion that reopening strategies for Alabama and other states in general are “premature.”

Jones outlined that reopening can be done safely if people continue to listen to health experts like Harris and follow social distancing/sanitation guidelines.  Jones urged Alabamians to wear masks in public.

“I don’t think that reopening is inconsistent with trying to stop this spread by [doing] the same things that people have been saying since this virus came to this country,” he said. “And that is to social distance, that is to make sure you wear the masks… to protect you and others. If we continue to do that, if we could just get used to that — I think that’s been the biggest issue right now. Some people just don’t want to be told to do it, and I get that. But the fact is if people could just get used to doing this, we could stop the spread.”

Earlier in the live stream, he was complimentary of recent state-level efforts led by Harris and Governor Kay Ivey related to the pandemic.

“Alabama is still seeing a significant number of cases. We have begun to open up, and we’ve begun to open up — I think — carefully and wisely, following the science,” Jones commented. “And I think the governor has done a very good job of trying to get two messages out. Yes, we want to open up, we want to get the economy rolling again. But at the same time, we’ve got to do it safely. And it’s that latter message that I’m not sure folks are hearing as much. You only have to see the pictures from the beaches and other places in Alabama and around the country to see that folks are not quite getting the message that this virus is still out there, it is still dangerous, it is still deadly. And we want to open up, but opening up is not inconsistent with what we should be doing to protect ourselves and our families and our communities.”

Jones further remarked that Harris “has done a great job” helping lead Alabama’s response to the pandemic.

Other topics covered during the live stream included Jones’ hope that live sports can return with fans in attendance this fall, as well as Harris explaining that while increased testing could explain a portion of Alabama’s rising number of positive COVID-19 cases, community spread is occurring in multiple hotspots.

You can watch the entire live stream below:

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

8 hours ago

Huntsville doctor using hydroxychloroquine for some COVID-19 patients

An infectious disease doctor at Huntsville Hospital says he continues to use the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat some patients with the coronavirus.

The drug, often championed by President Donald Trump, has been the subject of intense nationwide discussion during the pandemic.

A recent retrospective study published in the scientific journal The Lancet showed evidence that hydroxychlorquine had no positive results for hospitalized patients.

WAFF asked Dr. Ali Hassoun of Huntsville Hospital about the article published in The Lancet. He said the type of study and characteristics of the subjects meant that it was not good enough evidence to stop using hydroxychloroquine.

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Hassoun says he continues to treat patients with the drug as long as they are not at risk for the side effects.

A top infectious disease expert at UAB Hospital recently told Yellowhammer News that he and his team do not recommend hydroxychloroquine for hospitalized patients.

Most of the published evidence used to fuel media articles on hydroxychloroquine’s ineffectiveness have used studies done on hospitalized subjects.

Another member of the team at UAB, Dr. Turner Overton, is currently helping conduct a trial studying hydroxychloroquine’s ability to treat the coronavirus in its earliest stages.

Hassoun did not reveal in his interviews the condition of the patients to whom he is giving hydroxychloroquine.

Another drug, remdesivir, has shown in studies to be effective at treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but the supply is low.

Hassoun told WAFF he is prescribing remdesivir as well.

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

8 hours ago

Twitter should back down, and Trump should back off

American politics are about to enter a precarious place where the messages put out by politicians, or maybe only one politician, are going to be filtered by nameless and faceless tech employees that work for Twitter.

As we all know, Twitter is the tool used by President Donald Trump to get around the gate-keeping and absurd bias of the mainstream media.

Until this week, he had an unfiltered avenue to speak directly to the American people, and they had an avenue to hear him.

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Of course, afterward, anyone and everyone with a TV, newspaper byline or Twitter account could respond and call him a liar, fraud, treasonous monster or whatever they wanted.

But Twitter decided to step in and decide that they would start behaving differently, just for Trump, and editorialize on his content.

While they could have chosen to do so on his claims that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough needed to be looked at as a potential murderer, but they didn’t.

SIDENOTE: There is a tape where he jokes about having an affair and killing her.

Instead, Twitter decided they needed to go after the president on the issue of voter fraud.

Twitter editorialized this tweet by adding: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” with links to content accusing the president of getting the facts wrong.

The reality is Democrats are pushing for all vote-by-mail elections.

Some states are automatically mailing ballots to all registered voters, while some are just mailing applications.

But this is far worse than this particular case. It’s the precedent being set.

Why Trump?

When Trump gets some of the info wrong, let the media and his political enemies call him out.

Why not all the elected officials who continued to allege Russian collusion for years, and still do to this day on Twitter?

What about media figures who spread dangerous misinformation about the motives of their fellow citizens and use Twitter to delimitate their attacks?

Why not Ayatollah Khomeini, who openly threatens Isreal?

Why not the official Chinese government Twitter accounts that accuse the United States of spreading the coronavirus?

The last two don’t even allow their citizens to use Twitter, but Twitter will bow down to them?

What about the people claiming former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t have to recuse himself? He did.

What about those who think U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has a chance at reelection? He doesn’t.

What about the anonymous guy who accuses me of numerous crimes and misdeeds on Twitter daily?

Does that guy now get a note depicting that his comments are untrue or unfounded?

What about essentially every column written by the bitter losers at Alabama Media Group? They had to dump their comment section because their commenters were crushing their souls. Will Twitter’s CEO or site integrity police call out their misinformation?

We could do this all day.

That’s the point. Moderation of this kind and on this scale is impossible.

It can’t be done effectively. That’s the purpose of the rule Trump wants reinterpreted.

More importantly, it should not be done — and it especially should not be done to one individual.

It shouldn’t matter how many times Joe Scarborough or any of CNN’s interchangeable talking heads declare, “This should be taken down,” Twitter should just stay out of moderating political debates because they will inevitably get it wrong and if they don’t editorialize, they now accept it.

What if Trump tweets “LOOK at all the lies Joe Biden has told, from the lies about his wife’s death to the lies about his son’s business dealings!”

If Twitter lets them stand, they are now confirmed? (SIDENOTE: They are confirmed)

Facebook actually got this as close to right as you could expect. They have attempted to discredit things linked to their site with a bit of a mixed bag approach that has angered liberals and conservatives alike.

But Twitter has now awakened the president, and he has the ability to raise questions about their status as a forum and not a publisher.

If Twitter is smart, they will follow the lead of Facebook’s CEO of stop trying to act as the arbiter of truth. Zuckerberg believes Twitter went too far, saying, “I think in general private companies probably shouldn’t be – especially these platform companies – shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Truthfully, Zuckerberg knows that Twitter is dragging him (and Google) into this, and he wants no part of it, nor should he.

Trump’s potential executive order makes his position clear, “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.”

He wants to strip them of immunity, meaning if they want to editorialize, then they are responsible for anything that they allow.

This will either force Twitter to back down on moderation or die as it currently exists and take down most social media sites with it.

As with any executive order, the next president can change the rules (except for DACA, apparently).

It’s pretty clear that Twitter has over-stepped here, and they only have two options if the president’s order becomes a reality and survives a court challenge: back down on moderation of political speech or be crushed by lawsuits and government oversight.

The correct move by Twitter would be to stop this nonsense right now, acknowledge that they will stop moderating political speech, and move on knowing they messed up.

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

9 hours ago

Wind Creek facilities in Alabama reopening June 8

Wind Creek Hospitality has announced that it is reopening all three of its resort-style gaming properties in Alabama over the next two weeks.

A release detailed that a soft opening to small groups of invited guests will begin Thursday, June 4, followed by a public opening for the “new” full operation on Monday, June 8.

The Wind Creek properties affected are in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, resepctively.

The company is instituting new policies to ensure that guests can enjoy themselves as safely as possible. This will include temperature checks for all guests and employees, and masks or face coverings will be required for everyone.

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Guests are asked to bring their own mask, however players who do not have their own mask will be able to acquire one on property for a small donation supporting local first responders, health care providers and COVID-19 patient relief funds.

Smoking will only be allowed in designated spots separate from the gaming floor, restaurants and other public areas.

To accommodate social distancing, all of the properties will be limiting the number of guests on the casino floor; this new maximum capacity will be roughly one-third of normal operations. All locations are employing increased distances between tables in dining venues and clearly marking appropriate distances near hotel check-in, player services and other areas where lines historically formed.

Upon reopening, the casino floor will be open to the public for four sessions each day and deep cleaning will be conducted between sessions. These deep-cleaning efforts will come in addition to the cleaning of each machine before and after every guest.

Once Wind Creek properties open for general admission on June 8, special waiting areas will be available for guests at each property if a property is at capacity.

For those who want to plan ahead, Wind Creek is introducing a new reservation system that lets guests make a reservation for a particular session up to 14 days in advance.

According to Jay Dorris, CEO and president of Wind Creek, “Just like your favorite restaurant on a Friday night, a reservation isn’t required. But if you absolutely want to join us on a given day and time, reservations are available.”

With limited capacity, demand is sure to be high. By encouraging guests to reserve a visit, Wind Creek is hoping to eliminate any lines that make it difficult to maintain a six-foot distance.

The reservation system will be open to guests by June 3 online here. Reservations can also be made by calling (866) WIND-360 [866.946.3360] or a casino host.

It has not yet been announced when the Wind Creek-owned Mobile Greyhound Park will reopen. All of Wind Creek’s properties across the globe voluntarily closed in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

9 hours ago

Sessions says DoJ regulations requiring recusal ‘basically had the impact of law’; Questions Tuberville’s commitment to Trump’s China, trade policies

What happened regarding the 2017 decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from involvement in any investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will have a lasting impact on presidential appointments for the foreseeable future.

Future presidents and presidents-elect will be reluctant to appoint anyone politically active to the U.S. Attorney General post in the future given the interpretation of the Department of Justice regulations on investigations into campaigns.

During an interview that aired on Auburn radio’s WQSI, Sessions, candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, explained the regulation he was following and how it was “basically” the law. He also called his decision fundamental in that a law enforcement official could not investigate himself.

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“The code of federal regulations is where it is,” Sessions said. “It’s not just guidance, letter or a policy point from the attorney general or something. It is a notice. It is published nationwide. People can hear it, make complaints to it, and then it becomes adopted. For the people at the Department [of Justice], it basically has the impact of law. The attorney general can’t change it, number one. Number two, it’s just basic. The district attorney in Lee County can’t investigate if he worked at a bank the bank he worked at, where he would be a witness to the investigation, in which they may have suggested he was involved in wrongdoing at the bank. You can’t investigate yourself. This is a fundamental principle. But the regulation says if you participate in a political organization in a substantial role, you’re not able to investigate yourself.”

Sessions noted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and former U.S. Attorneys General Ed Meese and Mike Mukasey agreed with his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

When asked if he would accept the appointment now knowing what he knows, Sessions offered his mindset on the 2016 offer from then-President-elect Trump.

“Look, I believe that I was ready to lead that department,” he said. “I spent 14 years in that department. I had supervisory oversight for 20 years. I knew what the problems were, and we did some tremendous things.”

When asked for a yes or no answer regarding what he might do had he known about the obstacles that were to lie ahead for him when offered the post, Sessions declined.

“You can’t go back on those kinds of things, Jeff,” he replied. “That’s just a silly thought, frankly. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but we’re not going there. I took the job. I did my best duty. I serve at the pleasure of the president. The question is right now — we talked about my situation over and over and over again. Let’s talk about Tommy Tuberville.”

Sessions went on to raise his July 14 GOP primary opponent Tommy Tuberville’s comments about U.S. policy regarding China, trade.

“Who is going to help the president carry out his agenda?” Sessions added.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.