Bill named for slain deputy reduces jail release

Bibb County Deputy Sheriff Chris Poole was a dispatcher in 2015 when he started riding with Deputy Brad Johnson.

“I really wanted to do what Brad did,” Poole told the Alabama Daily News this week. “I’ve seen him help so many people out there, some of whom just needed a word of encouragement to get back on track.”

Now Poole plans to campaign in the State House this spring for a bill named after his late friend and partner, who was killed on the job in late June. Poole was also shot dead, allegedly by Austin Patrick Hall, who was recently paroled from prison under the state’s good times law despite numerous felony counts and a prison escape in 2019.

The bill, sponsored by Senator April Weaver, R-Brierfield, would significantly reduce the time inmates can receive as an incentive.

Current law allows for the classification of inmates based on their behavior. Class I prisoners—those considered the most trustworthy—can receive 75-day deductions for every 30 days actually served. The Weber Bill would change this to a 30 day deduction for every 75 served. Class II, III and IV prisoners receive fewer breaks in their sentences and the proposed legislation reduces these too. It also delays when “stimulus time” can start.

“It clearly requires them to prove themselves for a set period of months before a good time starts running, rather than continuing the current system of only starting the clock when the cell door closes,” Weaver told the Alabama Daily News .

Her bill also outlines prison crimes that could disqualify someone for incentive release, including escaping, inciting a riot and assault.

Deputy Brad Johnson

But why Hall, who previously escaped from prison and was recaptured but not charged with this crime, was released on time in the first place is still a question.

“For reasons that have never been fully explained to the public, Austin Hall was released from prison in 2022 rather than being prosecuted in a timely manner for his 2019 escape, clear evidence of an overwhelmed system that violates laws already on the books stand, can’t enforce,” Carla Crowder, executive director of the Appleseed Center for Justice, told the Alabama Daily News.

“…It’s completely understandable that when a tragedy like the killing of a police officer happens, our elected leaders want to respond, and do so vigorously,” Crowder said. “But if the only response is longer jail terms for hundreds or thousands of people, we are only increasing the pressure on an overwhelmed and broken system. So another tragedy inevitably happens because this broken system doesn’t make us safer. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle in Alabama.”

Hall was allegedly driving a stolen vehicle and was being followed by Johnson and Poole when he got out of the car and started shooting at the MPs. Weaver, who calls Poole and Johnson both family friends, said the shooting happened just yards from her driveway.

She worked with the Attorney General on this bill.

“Senator Weaver is committed to correcting the policy that failed her friend, Deputy Brad Johnson, and I support her efforts 100 percent,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a written statement to the Alabama Daily News.

The legislative session, which begins in March, will be the second in a row that lawmakers have worked to change the law in good time after a police officer was shot.

Last year, Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill, sponsored a bill that would bar people convicted of murdering someone with a deadly weapon from early release. It came into force on July 1st. Pettus’ bill was named for Sgt. Nick Risner, a Sheffield officer charged with murder, has been released from prison after serving just over three years of a ten-year sentence for manslaughter.

Pettus said this week he wants to sponsor Weaver’s House bill.

“Good times should be good times,” Pettus said. “Right now you come in there and you break all those rules and you still get it, that’s a problem.”

Hall is currently being held in the Shelby County Jail, according to ADOC records.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey signed an executive order amending the good times policy. Their arrangement creates four levels of infractions for which inmates can lose accrued time. She said the change encourages good behavior and those who “really want to rehabilitate.”

The proposed legislation goes further by reducing the deadline and making it irreversible by a future governor.