Law enforcement officials concerned with new class of felony

Published 12:53 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016

If you do the crime, you do the time.

Unless, that is, you call Alabama home.

A prison reform act passed last year changes the way the state classifies certain crimes, and could lead to a spike in criminal activity as a result of lighter sentences.

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The change created a Class D felony for drug and property crimes aimed at stemming overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons, which are estimated to be at more than 200 percent capacity.

“We want the bad guys behind bars. But at the same time, we can’t afford to put everybody behind bars,” said Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard. “What we’re trying to do is be smart on crime. We obviously want to punish people.”

Bennet Wright, executive director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, said that under the new guidelines, non-violent offenders could receive penalties that range from one to five years, but with split sentences.

A split sentence is when a sentence is split into two parts and the first is served by incarceration and the second probation.

Offenders convicted of class D felonies will now have a two-year confinement cap and a three-year probation cap. However, the confinement portion of the split will be done through community correction or intensive probation supervision through pardons and paroles.

“If they don’t get probation, drug court or pretrial diversion, they have to get a split sentence,” Wright said.

Wright said the goal is for inmates not to end their sentence in prison to have better accountability.

The Class D felony laws passed last session took effect on Jan. 30.

Offenders convicted of unlawful possession of marijuana first for personal use, unlawful possession of controlled substance, theft third, theft of services third, theft of lost property third, receiving stolen property third, criminal possession of forged instrument third, forgery third or illegal possession/fraudulent use of credit or debit card are charged with a lesser felony.

“There are no violent offenses; there are no sex offenses,” said Wright. “It’s the lowest-level felonies in the state of Alabama.”

The change concerns local law enforcement officials, however.

“We’re very concerned,” said Chief Lonzo Ingram. “I think all law enforcement officers are concerned about what impact it’s going to have on our crime rate. I think we’re going to see a spike in crime because of the way the Class D felony mandates offenders be handled when it comes to certain crimes. We’re very concerned, and we’re going to watch it closely and see how it impacts our crime rates here in Greenville.”