Note: This story was originally published on January 27th, 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) Sentencing guidelines are set to change this October to ensure all non-violent offenders are treated equally in the eyes of the law.
Attorney Joel Sogol says the Alabama justice system needs an overhaul. He and the Alabama State Sentencing Commission are working in small steps to ensure justice is the same for everyone… something not true in the past.
“You can have a situation in one circuit, someone… let’s say a second time drug possession will get a minimal sentence of probation with a minimum requirement of drug treatment and in another circuit someone would get sent off to prison for seven, eight or nine years,” explains Sogol.
That will change for non-violent offenders as “presumptive sentencing” will become mandatory. The policy will help ensure sentences are fair but Sogol believes it’ll also help to alleviate overcrowding. Right now Alabama prisons are operating at 195% occupancy.
Sogol says, “There are only so many prison beds in the state and we have to find a way to fill them with appropriate people.”
The argument behind keeping non-violent offenders out of prison is that it’ll give the state more flexibility to ensure violent offenders stay locked up longer…
That’s a good start for victims rights groups like VOCAL. But Director Janette Grantham says she wants to see more dramatic changes.
“First we need truth-in-sentencing. If you get 10 years, then you serve 10 years.”
Sogol says he understands the frustration of victims and says truth in sentencing is the ultimate goal… But it’ll take small steps to get there.
“I think as time passes you will see everything come together. If you want to reach truth-in-sentencing, everything has to come together. We can’t get there piecemeal.”