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Sentencing commission seeks to fix data problems

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Agencies involved with the Alabama Sentencing Commission are meeting most of their goals for 2007, but data-keeping problems have been found and need to be fixed, commission executives said Friday.

The 15-member commission includes judges, lawyers, legislators and corrections officials and is charged with coming up with ways to improve the state's sentencing practices. Part of that mission requires reliable data to measure progress and plan future initiatives, Assistant Attorney General Rosa Davis said.

"We're trying to pull together the data and solve the data problems we've run into," said Davis, who is on the commission's executive committee. "The commission was formed to recommend evidence-based practices, so we need to be sure our evidence is correct."

The commission keeps track of sentences handed down in cases throughout the state and uses that data to determine whether new sentencing standards are being used. The information will later show if the standards are having a positive effect on prison overcrowding.

Court clerks are the ones putting the information into the database, but commission staff members speaking during the group's monthly meeting Friday, said it's a confusing process sometimes.

Part of the problem is with the current procedure because records aren't always updated when there are new developments in a case and the commission has to give clerks better guidelines about how to input the data. For example, Davis said, if a judge gives someone probation and it is later revoked, a clerk might go into the file and remove any mention of probation instead of just updating it with the revocation.

That skews the data because the original sentence has been removed from the file, she said.

"It's just a training issue and there are other things where we need to change the system a little bit," Davis said.

Lynda Flynt, executive director of the commission, said the group has made important strides this year, especially with implementing new sentencing standards.

Flynt said the commission is now working on a truth-in-sentencing proposal that would do away with good time credits for inmates and set up minimum and maximum sentence amounts.

The earliest those standards would be implemented would be 2009, but the commission might ask legislators for an extension, she said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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