- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Oct. 16

Decatur Daily on Alabama officials embarrassing the state:

Alabama officials seem to be in a race to see who can cause the state and its citizens the greatest embarrassment.

Recent revelations on Gov. Robert Bentley’s termination of former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier added to the ugliness. Collier may have had real problems as ALEA chief, but it is increasingly clear that backroom politics got him fired.

Collier had clashed with Bentley and lawmakers over their unrealistic expectations of huge savings from the consolidation of state law enforcement agencies. Then Collier cooperated with the state Attorney General’s Office in its prosecution of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, further irritating Bentley.

In February, Bentley placed Collier on medical leave and installed Stan Stabler as interim chief. A month later, Bentley announced that an ALEA “internal review” had uncovered “a number of issues, including possible misuse of funds.” State officials refused numerous media requests for the report.

What only recently became clear is that the report Bentley has used to justify the termination was prepared after Collier was fired. It’s a shoddy document, replete with smears. Most remarkably, Collier - the target of the investigation - was not even interviewed.

In a glaring conflict of interest, Stabler was running ALEA when the investigation took place and Stabler was given the permanent job when Collier got fired. The new chief went from having no managerial responsibilities to heading a 1,400-employee agency in less than a year.

Adding to the embarrassment, Stabler was Bentley’s “body man” during Bentley’s alleged relationship with his adviser, Rebekah Mason. According to Collier, Stabler had seen inappropriate texts between the two.

While Collier lost his job, he also got the last word. A day after his termination, he revealed information about the alleged Bentley-Mason relationship. Mason quit her job and Bentley is now spending taxpayer funds to defend himself against impeachment proceedings.

The revelations on Collier’s termination are merely the most recent shenanigans that have brought embarrassment to the state.

Hubbard, who orchestrated the GOP takeover of the Statehouse with promises of needed ethics reforms, was convicted in June on 12 counts of violating the state ethics law. His misdeeds included a range of ethics violations, including improperly soliciting lobbyists and company executives for consulting contracts and investment, and using his office to benefit his clients.

Last month, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore from the bench for the remainder of his term after ruling that Moore had urged probate judges to defy clear law that gays and lesbians can marry.

It’s a sordid mess. We have a governor who, while married, had an inappropriate - although not, he says, sexual - relationship with an adviser. The governor fired the state’s chief law enforcement officer based on a self-serving investigation compiled after the termination and after the chief made public Bentley’s relationship with his adviser. And even as an impeachment investigation proceeds against the governor, the former House speaker is appealing a felony ethics conviction and the suspended chief justice is seeking to reclaim his seat.

Character matters. While the officials may not have learned lessons from their misconduct, voters hopefully have. Alabama is a proud state, and its people need elected officials deserving of their respect.

Online:

http://www.decaturdaily.com/

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Oct. 19

The TimesDaily of Florence on legislation that would require a judge to decide if a teenager is tried as an adult:

Alabama Sen. Dick Brewbaker has pre-filed legislation that would require a judge to decide if a 16- or 17-year-old will be tried as an adult.

His legislation would change the Alabama code to stipulate anyone 16 and older charged with a capital offense, a Class A felony or other violent crimes aren’t automatically placed in the adult court system.

The Republican lawmaker from Montgomery said such a difficult decision should be made by a judge, “not because the law says so.”

We understand the argument that there may be extenuating circumstances like mental capacity or abuse that should be considered before sending a child into the adult justice system, and from there, to the adult prison system. But if that is the main motivation behind this legislation, it’s flawed.

Though the law automatically sends a 16- or 17-year-old to adult court for certain, violent offenses, the human element, including that of a judge, is already part of the equation.

When a juvenile is charged as an adult, one of the first requests filed by the representing attorney is youthful offender status.

This request sets in motion an investigation into any extenuating circumstances that should be considered. The results are put before a judge who then decides whether to grant youthful offender status and send the case to juvenile court, or to continue the case through adult court.

Brewbaker’s proposed legislation is redundant and a waste of time.

There have been recent United States Supreme Court decisions stating youth are fundamentally different than adults in that they are less culpable for their actions and have a greater capacity to change and should be treated differently. That may apply for offenders who are extremely young - too many cases have been reported concerning children as young as 8 or 10 committing murder and sexual attacks. Yes, something has gone fundamentally wrong when a child this young turns to violence, and these children must not be thrown into the adult prison system.

But a 16-year-old is considered responsible enough, not just in Alabama but in every state in the nation, to be given the license to operate an automobile on any highway. That’s adult treatment. Those same 16-year-olds should also expect to be treated as adults when they deliberately take a life or commit a violent crime.

Nathan Boyd was 17 in 1999 when he and his brother decided to rob Danny Sledge’s business on Shoal Creek in Florence. He was there when Sledge was stabbed, multiple times in a brutal crime that took Sledge’s life.

Boyd’s attorney did his duty to Boyd and applied for youthful offender status. That request went before the judge, who decided Boyd’s violent offense should be tried in adult court. Boyd was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is now trying to get a new sentencing hearing based on a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that regulates states on life-without-parole sentences involving juveniles.

Brewbaker’s legislation is the feel-good kind of proposal that does nothing. Instead, why not fix a justice system - for both juveniles and adults - that is negatively impacted by too few judges, too few court clerks, and a forensics lab system that is so underfunded the term “speedy trial” has become a joke in the state of Alabama if you have to wait for test results on physical evidence and toxicology.

Our justice system has been punished by underfunding from state legislators. That’s the real problem in need of correction.

Online:

http://www.timesdaily.com/

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Oct. 16

The Gadsden Times on the Legislature making prisons a top priority:

People often coyly insist “we don’t like to say ‘we told you so’” when they actually do. It’s human nature to want to crow a bit in such situations, especially when the “tellees” simply refused to heed the tellers’ admonitions.

So take this as crowing - we see it as citing facts - but we’ve said more than once in this space that Alabama’s overcrowded and underfunded prison system was at the point of immolation, if not a crater-creating explosion, and that if the Legislature didn’t step up and address the situation, the federal government would.

That prediction became reality when the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the conditions at the state’s 14 men’s prisons. The department’s Civil Rights Division will focus on whether inmates are held in safe, secure and sanitary conditions, and protected from physical harm and sexual abuse.

It’s the second time in this decade the feds have stepped in on that issue here; the Department of Justice investigated the Tutwiler Prison for Women from 2012 to 2014, concluding that its inmates had been subjected to a pattern of sexual abuse by guards.

Steps were taken to correct that problem. The situation in the men’s prisons won’t be so easy.

Those facilities are at nearly 200 percent of capacity, with 23,692 inmates crammed into spaces designed for 13,318. We’re not going to prognosticate the Department of Justice’s findings, but recent events confirm what they’re likely to uncover and prove that level of crowding is a recipe for trouble.

For instance, there have been major outbreaks of violence this year at the maximum security Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. A corrections officer was stabbed to death in September, and earlier incidents saw the warden get stabbed and inmates take control of and set fires in a dormitory. According to media reports, both inmates and guards briefly went on strike last month.

The Legislature in 2014 adopted changes to sentencing and probation standards in an effort to ease the overcrowding, and Gov. Robert Bentley this year proposed a 30-year, $800 million bond issue to build three new men’s prisons (most of the old ones would be shut down) and a replacement for Tutwiler. A scaled-back, $550 million version passed the Senate but died in the House, where members said there were “too many questions” about it and they were “uncomfortable with the changes” that were made at the last minute.

If the fact the feds are knocking at the door hasn’t been the loudest of alarm clocks to those folks, and a message that prisons ought to be the No. 1 item at the top of next year’s legislative agenda, they sleep way too soundly.

We understand the operative question will again be “how do we pay for it?” We understand that Alabama is a law and order state where people want wrongdoers across the scale locked up, and aren’t likely to be particular about how they’re treated. (Locking people up is something this state does quite well; according to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, if Alabama were a country, its incarceration rate of 987 per 100,000 people would rank fifth on the planet.)

That won’t make this problem go away, and we think lawmakers should show some courage and come up with a solution on their own, before the feds impose one - and make it stick.

Online:

http://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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