State moves toward addressing

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 21, 2000

needs of victims of crimes


Staff Writer

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

July 20, 2000 10 PM

Recent comments by the president have brought the needs of crime victims into the light.

Congress is considering a measure that would make it mandatory to inform victims of the whereabouts of the ones who victimized them.

"Alabama is moving towards that, now, in recognition of the victim’s needs," Pike County District Judge Bill Hightower told the Exchange Club of Troy Thursday afternoon.

Through technological advances in the state judicial system, victims will one day be able to access information about where their abusers are living after being released from prison.

Since its inception in January 1977, the Unified Judicial System of Alabama has made it a point to bring the courts together through technology.

Hightower said judges throughout the state created the Unified Judical System because they wanted to accomplish two things ­ reform the system and stay on the cutting edge.

Now, Florida is looking at what its neighbor has done.

"That gives you some idea of how far ahead Alabama is," Hightower said, adding there aren’t "many cases" in which Alabama leads other states.

When it comes to automation within the courts, Alabama is a leader with 71 (clerk) sites being linked through a statewide computer system.

"Automation is a real boom for us," Hightower said.

The days of judges being surrounded by stacks of case files are almost absolete. Alabama is close to the point where every judge can just push a button to access information.

There are 18 places in the state where documents are stored as digital images.

Although many efforst have been put into technological advances for the courts, there are many other concerns.

"Several years ago, the judicial system embarked on setting a goal of how long a case would be pending," Hightower said.

"We have a huge number of cases that go through the courts in Alabama."

Efforts determining what is the best type of sentence are constantly being made.

The judge said, now, a person will likely only serve one-fifth of a sentence.

Hightower said one way of thinking is risk management; another is studying the effects of sentencing and, yet, another is alternative sentencing. Community corrections is a new topic of discussion.

"We put people on probation or we send them to the penitentiary, That’s about it.

"There are a lot of different ideas out there we need to consider," Hightower said.

He said judges are also working to make sure cases, involving children who are wards of the court, are properly monitored.

"The idea is to promote permanacy and stability for these children," Hightower said.