Cracking Down On Repeat Offenders Still

The violent murders of an Auburn University student and a toddler from Birmingham may change Alabama law.

This legislative session, one Alabama senator is proposing an amendment to the Alabama constitution that would take away bail for defendants accused of violent crimes. The proposal raises concerns over potential unintended consequences.

In Part 3 of this special report, WVUA 23 is looking at the possible economic impact of this legislation with the help of Alabama Public Radio.

There have been a few cases in Alabama where someone who was arrested and charged with a violent Class A felony was released on bond, then went out and murdered someone else, said Alabama Sen. Cam Ward.

That was the case in the murder of college student Aniah Blanchard, as well as the murder of 3-year-old Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney. Both cases happened in late 2019.

The man accused in Blanchard’s death is accused of killing her while he was out of jail on a $280,000 bond for a different case involving attempted murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery.

It’s not the only example of someone committing heinous crimes while out on bail, Ward said, and that’s why he wants his bill passed.

Ward’s bill would automatically deny bail for people arrested on violent offenses including murder, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, kidnapping, sexual abuse or sexual torture and human trafficking.

“My bill would just say if you have one of those Class A felonies, then you’d have to be held without bond for at least 15 days,” Ward said. “And then a public hearing is held, and then you can decide whether they should remain in jail or not.”

Not everyone is on board with the legislation. Sonny Brasfield is the executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, and he said he worries the bill will make overcrowding in county jails worse.

“Would it result in additional people being in the jails? No question about that,” he said.”

Brasfield said between 2014 and 2018, the cost to operate county jails increased by $31 million. The cost per day per inmate in 2019 was $60 for the Department of Corrections and a little less than that for each county, he said. Ward’s legislation could end up costing taxpayers even more money.

“Most people don’t understand that all those costs for people before they are tried, convicted or sentenced are paid by the local taxpayer,” Brasfield said. “Even though a person is arrested and charged with a state charge, until they move into Department of Corrections custody it is the local taxpayers paying those costs.”

University of Alabama Professor of Law Jenny Carroll said having taxpayers foot the bill for suspects without bail is certainly an issue, but another is the serious economic impact pre-trial detention creates for the state and individual counties.

“These folks are being removed from our economic system,” Carroll said. “They’re not out there earning wages or salaries, they’re not out there providing child care, paying rent and buying groceries and doing all the normal things that consumers usually do in an economy.”

Carroll said the amount of people in pre-trial detention can also affect how law enforcement patrol the streets.

Sheriff’s departments may have to rent bed space from other facilities and may have to go over their budget to accommodate the number of people within the jail system.

“It’s also causing them to make decisions about arrest and enforcement in the general community,” Carroll said. “They may be making decisions not to remove someone from the street, not to arrest them because there’s not a place in jail for them.”

So how can Alabama lawmakers make it easier on the counties? Brasfield said there are a number of things that could help.

“Pick up the cost of medical care, some changes in the way we deal with probation violations, speeding up the transfer process of inmates back to county jails, all of those things would help,” Brasfield said.

Legislation calling on the state to do these things has been introduced this legislative session, Brasfield said.

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