The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

August 18, 2013

Alabama needs to rethink punishment for non-violent crimes

Associated Press

The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on re-thinking punishment for non-violent crime is a no-brainer:

If U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and members of Alabama's Republican controlled legislature are in agreement on something, it must be a really good idea.

That's why we hope the initiatives by both will be successful in taming prison populations in both the federal prison system and in state prisons.

According to a report recently released by Bureau of Justice Statistics, both the federal prison system and Alabama state prisons have seen an increase in their number of inmates, bucking the national trend of decline.

Both are also over capacity. Alabama has incarcerated more than twice as many people as its prisons were designed to hold. That's 31,000 inmates, with a system designed to house 14,000.

Part of the problem has been the "War on Drugs" bandwagon, which has been popular with politicians for decades. The get-tough, throw-away-the-key rhetoric allowed penalties to be piled on so much over the years that we're being forced to have a new discussion over better solutions.

Even the profoundly conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., backs Holder's proposals. ...

In Alabama, new sentencing guidelines were approved, but the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the lobbying group Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL) aren't pleased. They are pushing for more input from crime victims in deciding on sentencing, and for the ability to use the threat of prison as a means to obtaining plea deals and avoiding the time and expense of having trials.

They want to revisit the law with legislators, and we think that's a good thing.

Our justice system doesn't claim to be perfect, and it's only through continual refinement that it can be improved. Locking up dangerous criminals to protect the public is a no-brainer.

Continuing the conversation about what to do with non-violent criminals is the right thing to do.