Discussion heated over crime prevention program's future

District Attorney Ellen Brooks
District Attorney Ellen Brooks

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A bill that came up during a meeting of the Montgomery County Legislative delegation kicked off a heated discussion Tuesday.

District Attorney Ellen Brooks and the Montgomery County Commission are proposing charging a fee to help fund the financially strapped, pre-trial diversion program. That program is an alternative sentencing program for fist time, non-violent offenders.

The commission has been funding it for over 30 years, but in these financial hard times, commissioners came up with a bill asking to add a fee to support the program. The judge in the case could reduce or eliminate the fee, but one local lawmaker says the bill targets and will hurt only a select few.

Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) strongly objected to the bill. "You all want this entire city and county to be financed by black people, some of them misfortunate, uneducated and I'm not gonna support that," he said. When Holmes asked for a role call and a carry-over of the bills he received immediate reaction from DA Brooks.

"I would respectfully ask for your approval to help black and white, rich and poor and allow those who can afford to pay for this program to do so," Brooks said. " Otherwise, we are going to have to slow it down and, eventually, it will fade into the sunset and those people who most need this help will not get it."

Holmes then said the bill wouldn't pass even it did come out of committee because he would contest it on the floor.

Thirty other counties have no problem with the idea. They already charge fees for the program.

DA Brooks says just 6 percent of people that go through the program become repeat offenders.

In an interview with Rep. Holmes a short time later, he told WSFA 12 News he thought Brooks was a fine District Attorney, but a different way to come up with the funds was needed. He suggested the possibility of raising business taxes or ad valorem taxes on the wealthy instead. "Let those rich people in East Montgomery pay some too," he said. "You've got some people out there with 35 bathrooms in their houses. Let them pay some of it."

The bill will get no support from Rep. Holmes with any kind of fee connected to it. "Even if it's two pennies..." he said.

WSFA 12 News will continue to follow this story.