About Us
        Work Groups
Sentencing Standards
Data Collection
About the Commission

Precursor to the Alabama Sentencing Commission:  The Judicial Study Commission’s Sentencing Committee

On January 23, 1998, Attorney General Bill Pryor and Chief Justice Perry Hooper, Sr., created a special committee of the Judicial Study Commission to study sentencing policies and practices in Alabama. Chief Justice Hooper and Attorney General Pryor appointed members of the Sentencing Study committee jointly.  This committee, charged with identifying and studying the strengths and weaknesses of Alabama’s entire criminal sentencing system, met during calendar years 1998, 1999 and part of 2000.   During this time, the committee reviewed each area of Alabama’s criminal sentencing structure, as well as other state and federal sentencing models.  In conducting its investigation, the committee heard from local, state, and national experts on current sentencing practices and reform efforts.  This broad-based group of criminal justice system officials (judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors, corrections officials, district attorneys, and law enforcement leaders) and victims’ rights advocates concluded that significant problems exist within Alabama’s current sentencing and corrections structure in Alabama that demand immediate attention.  As a result of their study, the JSC Sentencing Committee recommended the creation of the Alabama Sentencing Commission as a separate state agency to serve as a permanent research arm of the criminal justice system.  The Commission would be responsible for acquiring, analyzing and reporting necessary information to officials and state agencies involved in the sentencing process and making specific recommendations to reform Alabama’s criminal justice system, with primary emphasis on establishing truth-in-sentencing and eliminating unwarranted sentencing disparity.

Formation of the Alabama Sentencing Commission

Pursuant to the Judicial Study Commission’s recommendations, the Alabama Legislature passed Act 2000-596, effective May 17, 2000, creating a permanent Sentencing Commission as a separate state agency under the Alabama Supreme Court.  The enabling legislation for the Alabama Sentencing Commission enumerates the Commission’s responsibilities to:  (1) “serve as a clearinghouse for the collection, preparation, and dissemination of information on sentencing practices;” (2) “make recommendations to the Governor, Legislature, Attorney General, and Judicial Study Commission concerning the enactment of laws relating to criminal offenses, sentencing, and correctional and probation matters,” and (3) “review the overcrowding problem in county jails, with particular emphasis on funding for the county jails and the proper removal of state prisoners from county jails pursuant to state law and state and federal court orders, and to make recommendations for resolution of these issues to the Governor, Legislature, Attorney General, and the Judicial System Study Commission… .”

From May 17, 2000 until January 2001, members were appointed to serve on the Commission, the Executive Committee and Commission’s Advisory Council. With the assistance of the Attorney General’s office and the Administrative Office of Courts, the Commission continued to meet during the remainder of the year, consulting with nationally recognized criminal justice professionals and reviewing sentencing reform practices in other states which have addressed similar issues that Alabama is now facing.

In 2000, the Alabama Legislature charged the Alabama Sentencing Commission to review Alabama's existing sentence structure, and to recommend to the Legislature and Supreme Court changes in the criminal code, criminal procedures, and other aspects of sentencing policies and practices appropriate for the State of Alabama that best provide for the protection and safety of Alabama's citizens.  The Legislature directed the Commission to evaluate Alabama's criminal sentencing against several benchmarks:
  • To ensure that sentencing practices promote public safety and recognize the impact of crime on victims by concentrating on the incarceration of violent, sex, and repeat offenders.
  • To maintain meaningful judicial discretion allowing judges the flexibility to individualize sentences based on the unique circumstances of each case.
  • To establish a system where the time served in prison will bear a close resemblance to the court imposed sentence.
  • To provide for sentencing alternatives, other than incarceration in prison, for offenders who can best be supervised and rehabilitated through more cost-effective means while still protecting the public.
  • To assist the executive branch in avoiding prison overcrowding and premature release of inmates.
  • To ensure that there exists no unwarranted disparity with respect to sentencing of felony offenders.