Class D felony takes a crack at a problem not going away

Published 11:41 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

Alabama faces a serious problem with its prisons.

They are overcrowded, and overcrowded prisons mean a lot of trouble. It means inmates suffer from increased proximity with other inmates in a culture that breeds a school of crime our society suffers from for years to come.

It means taxpayers must pay more to house, feed and care for those inmates.

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It means washing machines and other equipment must run overtime to handle the increased burden above and beyond what they were intended to handle, and thus a quicker demise of such infrastructure.

It means any given day, should the overcrowding issues persist or grow worse, the state of Alabama and her taxpayers are subject to civil lawsuits and federal government intervention, the latter of which means someone else would be dictating to us how to handle our affairs.

Alabama faces a serious problem with its prisons, and that’s why legislators are scrambling for answers that are hard to find and not likely to be popular with their constituents because, let’s face it: Who cares about spending money on taking care of criminals?

Sadly, not enough of us care enough, as other needs just always seem to be higher on the list, year after year after year.

That’s why the creation of a new felony, called “Class D” because previously felonies were classified as A-C depending on the severity of the crime, is not likely to be the favorite topic of conversation over a morning biscuit.

The new felony creates a category all of its own which, basically, means lighter sentences for the lighter crimes, and a shift of the burden from prisons to county jails for those convicted of the new felony.

Buyer beware:

While shifting the responsibility and looking to significantly grow the parole system should provide relief to state prisons, moving the problem from one bucket to another doesn’t empty the burden.

Now it becomes the taxpayer on the local level concerned with all the same problems mentioned above, plus one other that police chiefs and sheriffs are foreshadowing in a justifiably worried manner:

It’s a thin, thin line between a so-called Class D burglary that gets a tap on the wrist because no one was at home, and a capital murder because a surprised homeowner was indeed home and died defending it.

Some of those burglars deserve to be in prison, they argue, before such a murder can occur, but because of Class D, they’ll instead be walking the streets.

It’s a dilemma facing Alabamians in more ways than one, and it’s an issue sure to hang around for a long time. The legislators are correct in that they have to do something, and this is among the lesser evils to attempt.

However, despite the history of politics that suggests it an uncommon thing to do, our lawmakers also must be willing to admit the mistake if they turn out to be wrong.

Class D deserves to be a topic that gets a consistent report card, and if D turns out to get an F, it’ll be time to go back to the chalk board.

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