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For decades, Alabama has relied on incarceration as the primary means to achieve deterrence and punishment. Currently, the Alabama prison system is operating at 190 percent over capacity, with a large portion of prison beds taken up by offenders convicted of nonviolent offenses. Additionally, revocations from probation and parole accounted for approximately one-quarter of all prison admissions in 2008. By 2011, the Alabama legislature expects truth-in-sentencing to be developed and implemented, which will result in the increased availability of incarceration for violent and habitual offenders while diverting low-level, nonviolent offenders to community supervision programs.

To adopt truth-in-sentencing and improve Alabama's criminal justice system, Alabama must have strong, effective and viable alternatives to incarceration available to judges. After the state adopted voluntary sentencing guidelines in late 2006, the Vera Institute of Justice and the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) provided technical assistance to Alabama through the Cooperative Community Alternative Sentencing Project (CCASP), with additional support from the State Justice Institute. The project, led by the Alabama Sentencing Commission and Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, is establishing model systems of community supervision in four pilot jurisdictions. The pilot sites will build these systems through the cooperation and collaboration of all relevant stakeholders and agencies, and then serve as mentors to other sites around the state.

As part of the CCASP, a statewide working group approved the use of a risk and needs assessment tool for use at sentencing as well as part of the supervision process. Pew, Vera and CJI also are working with state policy makers to develop new sentencing and corrections policy options that can help Alabama meet its budget constraints while protecting public safety.