Sometimes, Alabama is a source of what might be good news. A package of criminal sentencing reforms designed to reduce prison overcrowding appears to fit the bill. The cornerstone of the package is a set of voluntary sentencing guidelines for crimes that make up 87% of the criminal docket.
According to proponents of the guidelines, they emphasize "the need to reserve scarce prison space for violent offenders; the expansion of a judge's sentencing options for non-violent offenders; eliminating unwarranted sentencing disparity; and, resolving ambiguities in our criminal laws." The proponents claim that the proposals will reduce the prison population in Alabama (see page 71) by about 1%, as opposed to allowing it to increase by a little less than 10% by 2007.
The actual guidelines are found here.
Just to kick the tires, I considered the sentence for someone, with no criminal record prior to being arrested, who is being sentenced when the most serious offense is for distributing a reasonably large quantity of marijuana under the Alabama guidelines, while in possession of a firearm, the same facts as the Utah case where a man was sentenced to 55 years in prison by a federal judge under federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. The Alabama voluntary guidelines would recommend a 13 to 65 month (i.e. about 1-5 year) prison sentence to be split amongst the various charges. Notably, the guidelines do not make a strong distinction based on the exact quantity of drugs sold.