Calhoun County review of sentencing guidelines reduces population in county jail

Sentencing guidelines re-examined

CALHOUN COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - A review of sentencing guidelines for defendants in Calhoun County’s court system is being credited with reducing the county’s once vastly overcrowded jail population.

Calhoun/Cleburne County District Attorney Brian McVeigh says Sheriff Matthew Wade met with him, presiding Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Brian Howell, and others for help relieving overcrowding in the 38-year-old county jail in Anniston.

“I think he was holding 670 people, and that jail is built to hold 400 people,” McVeigh said. Wade has made similar comments to WBRC and other news agencies in the past.

McVeigh says D.A.'s office employee and former Calhoun County District Judge Laura Phillips has been reviewing records that could determine which inmates have no need to sit in the Calhoun County Jail. He says it has sped up cases, gotten rehabilitation for people with drug problems, and helped people who were financially able to afford their bond.

“What we did was start running sentencing guidelines, not waiting for the grand jury or at later times, but early on when people were arrested,” said McVeigh.

McVeigh says after the program started, the jail population was reduced by 190 to 200 over six months. Wade says it’s made a big difference in life at the jail.

“When you do a prison guideline sheet, you may have a small offense like a drug offense or a receiving stolen property offense, that may be your first offense,” says McVeigh.

And the guideline sheet, when you print it out five minutes after you’re arrested, may say you’re a ‘prison out’ recommendation, which means regardless of what you do, if you plead guilty you get out.

“Those people were sitting in jail,” said McVeigh. “They could be out working, they could be on probation, they could be paying back their victims, there’s a bunch of things they could be doing. Instead, they’re sitting at the county, costing the taxpayers money."

“The guidelines tell us, with a lot of offenses, what you should do with that person. If the guidelines from the minute you’re arrested say that you’re supposed to be a prison out, you’re supposed to be in a drug rehab program, we need to get you there. We don’t need to sit on that a year before we decide to put you in that program,” said McVeigh.

McVeigh says the difference not only shows up in the county jail, but also for taxpayers. “From a taxpayer standpoint, you’re paying money for somebody to sit down there for a year, and eat your food and get healthcare, that could be out rehabilitating themselves."

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