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Alabama Supreme Court Says Prisoner Who Didn’t Return From Work Release Punishable Under Felony Escape Statute

by David M. Reutter

On September 16, 2022, in an important decision for Alabama prisoners on work-release programs, the state Supreme Court held that “willful escape” from such a program “is punishable under the escape statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code.” And it found that the Code implicitly repealed provisions that defined and punished escape from a work-release center as a misdemeanor, making all escapes felonies under the updated Code.

Whitney Owens Jones was a detainee in January 2018 at the Mobile County Metro Jail and a participant in a work-release program. She left for her work-release job but did not return to the barracks. Jones was charged with, and convicted of, second-degree escape, a felony. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction.

When she turned to the state Supreme Court, it granted certiorari to determine if a person who escapes from a county work-release program may be convicted under one of the escape statutes in Ala. Code 1975 Section a 13A-10-30 through 13-10-33 9 – which would be punishable as a felony – or whether such an escape is punishable as a misdemeanor only, pursuant to the work-release statutes in Ala. Code 1975 Sections 14-8-42 and 14-8-43.

The Court noted that county work-release programs are authorized by the latter statutes, and under those, the failure to return from a work-release job constitutes “an escape” that renders the person “guilty of a misdemeanor.” However, in 1977, the state Legislature adopted the Alabama Criminal Code. Among its many changes, it recategorized escape into three distinct classifications to replace Alabama’s former “helter-skelter treatment of escape.” The revised scheme was intended to be “applicable to all escapes.”

The Court found that “no exception was granted to escapees from county work-release programs” in the new code. It further found that while implicit repeals are disfavored, “the escape statutes form a statutory scheme that covers the whole subject of escape and was ‘evidently intended to supersede and take the place’ of the relevant provisions regarding escape of the county work-release statutes.”

In his concurrence, Justice James L. Mitchell said the majority didn’t need to find one statute implicitly overrode the earlier one; one simply spelled out a harsher penalty that the other did not preclude. Therefore the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals was affirmed. See: Jones v. State, 2022 Ala. LEXIS 87. 

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