Alabama inmates are scheduled for early release under the 2021 law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Several hundred Alabama inmates are scheduled to be released from prison under a 2021 criminal law that sends prisoners on supervised release several months before the end of their sentences.

About 400 inmates are scheduled to be released under the law, which aims to ensure inmates are supervised when they leave the prison, Cam Ward, executive director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, said Monday.

The law, which goes into effect Tuesday, requires inmates between three and 12 months before the end of their sentence to be released to be overseen by the Parole and Parole Board for the remainder of their sentence. They are subject to electronic surveillance.

“On average, they usually have eight months left before they would get out anyway. Some had two months,” Ward said. Ward said his agency had no position on the legislation in 2021 but was tasked with monitoring released inmates.

Passed with broad support, the law was touted by proponents as a public safety measure designed to ensure inmates are monitored when leaving prison, rather than walking out the door unsupervised when their sentence ends.

However, the measure has been criticized by the Attorney General and some prosecutors for allowing inmates, including those convicted of violent crimes such as murder and assault, to leave prison early.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who opposed the legislation in 2021, filed a lawsuit Monday against Attorney General John Hamm seeking an injunction to block the release of inmates until crime victims are notified.

Marshall argued that at least 50 of the 412 inmates released are serving sentences for murder or manslaughter and that fewer than 20 victims had been notified as of Friday.

“Every violent crime leaves behind a victim or a victim’s family. For this reason, state and federal laws have long recognized the right of crime victims or their families to be notified by the appropriate governmental agency if their offender is on probation or about to be released from prison,” Marshall’s office wrote in the request for an injunction.

In a Monday letter to Marshall, Hamm said the prison system will not release an inmate “until we have verified that the law’s victim reporting requirements are being met.” In his view, court proceedings are unnecessary.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool denied the restraining order.

The Alabama legislature first approved the supervised release requirement in 2015, but it applied only to prospective inmates. The 2021 legislation made the requirement retroactive and expanded the number of detainees eligible for release.

Republican Rep. Jim Hill, a former district judge who sponsored the 2021 legislation, said he believes the measure will improve public safety because inmates would be followed for a period of time, rather than “without any supervision” at their sentencing being released from prison ends.

“I think it’s a public safety issue. I think that makes the public safer to have that kind of oversight,” Hill said.

The Alabama Department of Justice did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The Alabama legislature approved the measure along with legislation authorizing the construction of new prisons.

Under the law, a person sentenced to five years or less in prison would be paroled between three and five months. A person sentenced to between five and 10 years in prison would be released six to eight months earlier. A person sentenced to more than 10 years in prison would be paroled between 10 months and a year.

Ward said the prison system should review a “home plan” for each inmate.

Prisoners convicted of child sex crimes have no right to release under the law.