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Alabama’s prison system has been slow-motion train wreck for years with lawmakers doing little to nothing to address a situation continued to deteriorate. It has taken a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice to get the state’s attention; there’s an effort afoot to fund the construction and lease of three new prisons at a cost estimated at about $3 billion over the lease term, and even that is mired in controversy.

Recently lawmakers approved a program that, on its surface, would appear to be a positive initiative to reduce the prison population a bit while serving a larger effort to reduce recidivism.

Like much of the state’s attempts to improve the prison system, this effort appears doomed from the start, because by the legislature’s own definition, most Alabama inmates don’t qualify for the program.

The new program — the Alabama Education Incentive Time Act — would allow inmates to pare up to a year from their sentences if they successfully complete vocation or other training. Roughly 20,000 inmates make up the state prison population, but officials estimate only about 2,500 are eligible for the program.

Violent offenders are barred from the program, and rightly so. However, many offenders convicted of burglary, theft, or other property crimes in which no person was injured are also classified as violent offenders, meaning they’re unable to take advantage of the incentive.

Lawmakers defending the program call it a small first step. Perhaps the second step should be a review of the classification system to create a more accurate definition of violent offender.

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