Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column.
By Paul DeMarco,
This past week there were three police officers shot in Alabama in less than 24 hours. Tragically, Sheffield Police Sgt. Nick Risner passed away from his wounds.
And as usual, one of the suspects is a repeat offender who should have been in jail completing his sentence for a prior homicide. Specifically, the accused who shot Sgt. Risner had previously been convicted of manslaughter and had only served three years of a ten-year sentence. He owed the victim and the public seven more years in prison. Sgt. Risner paid for that injustice with his life.
As we undergo a rise in crime across the country, citizens want to see their elected officials focus on strengthening public safety.
And while there is a very vocal group from the left who consistently support defunding the police, weakening criminal justice laws, and opening the jails, the public demands safe neighborhoods.
It is clear Alabama voters demand to see their public officials enact strong laws to punish criminals. Yet, Alabama just held a special session and passed a new law which will allow more felons, including those convicted of violent crimes, let out of prison before they have completed their sentences.
There is a push for even more of these types of bills that would weaken our criminal laws. These bills are inaccurately described as “sentencing reform” when in actuality, they leave the public more vulnerable to violent felons. Many of these bills would let felons out of jail before they have completed their sentences or would reduce the amount of time they can be sentenced by a judge after they are convicted.
What the criminal justice system needs is truth in sentencing to give the public confidence that those convicted will serve the time for their convictions. When the current sentencing guidelines scheme was proposed to the Legislature, it was sold to them as part of a package that would include “truth in sentencing” as the next phase of the package. Of course, that proposal never came.
We need to stop the revolving door of violent felons committing crimes and then being released. Too many crime victims leave a courtroom after the sentencing of a convicted felon, thinking justice has been served only to see the early release of the felon. The current Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has done their part to protect the integrity of the process in ensuring when these inmates are released based on their sentences.
Alabama voters should now pay attention to what their state representatives and senators are doing in Montgomery to ensure they strengthen the criminal justice system to reflect the will of state citizens and make public safety a priority.
The next regular session of the Alabama Legislature will begin in January. Lawmakers should make truth in sentencing one of the top issues to address during the next session. And when they do, they will honor the memory and service of Sgt. Risner and those others who lost their lives to felons who were walking the streets when they should have been sitting in a jail cell completing their sentence for a previous violent crime.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.