This week will undoubtedly see a monumental change in the state’s prison system as the Alabama House and Senate pass legislation that will fund the construction of new prisons and renovate others. In the governor’s appeal, the legislature is also convened to address two sentencing reform measures.
Understanding that buildings are just the beginning and that reform offers are but a meager substitute for what is needed must be bluntly acknowledged.
The state may build dozens of new facilities, spend billions to do it, but without working to address the underlying failings of the penal and justice system, this session is just a tourniquet on a severed artery. The flaws inherent in state prisons and the justice system must be confronted with serious and transparent understanding.
Some Republican lawmakers balk at the sentencing formulas offered while supporting more than $ 1 billion in spending on renovations and new prisons. Their logic in this situation is as foreign as the free services in a Montgomery brothel.
In the past, overcrowding was cited as the reason for new prisons, but if new facilities are needed, they will not solve the most pressing problems.
There are only two ways to eliminate prison overcrowding: put fewer people in prison or let more out.
Improving penitentiary establishments is not simply a question of overcrowding but a question of human rights as the majority of establishments currently housing prisoners are unfit for human habitation.
I have visited three prisons in Alabama, and they are inhumane by any reasonable understanding of the law.
A prison is a building used to confine people convicted of crimes, which the special session calls on lawmakers to consider.
The death penalty is the most severe sentence imposed by the state. The next is jail time.
In their 2012 essay on The purpose of prison, Robert Lingo and Bridget Lott state that prisons are intended for “rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacity and retribution”.
Retribution is punishment for crimes. Incapacity removes the criminal from society. Deterrence is the hope that punishment can be used to convince others not to commit an offense, and rehabilitation offers programs that will allow an inmate to return to the community as a productive citizen.
There are various thoughts on the purpose of prisons, but Lingo and Lott offer a good place to start.
The state of Alabama is good at retaliation, less at incapacity, and its rehabilitation efforts exist but fail miserably. As for jail as a deterrent, the jury has not yet spoken about it.
Alabama knows how to be tough on crime. The question is: will he learn to be smart in the face of crime?
The US Department of Justice has detailed the systemic use of excessive force in Alabama men’s prisons, and they believe it violates the Eighth Amendment.
The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Districts of North, Central, and Southern Alabama have found systemic problems with unreported or under-reported incidents of excessive use of force. reported, the lack of proper investigation and attempts by correctional officers and their superiors to cover them up.
An April 2019 Department of Justice report found that Alabama men’s prisons likely violated inmates’ rights to be protected from sexual abuse and physical abuse.
When an individual enters prison, he loses his freedom, not his humanity. But according to the DOJ in Alabama, they lose both.
The state has custodial care for every woman and man incarcerated in the state prison. No one should be raped, beaten or tortured under state protection.
Alabama prisons are violent, drug-filled, and predatory hostels because the prison culture is fostered by indifference, understaffing, and leadership failures.
Drug overdoses have been common in state correctional facilities for the past 18 months, although outside visitors have been denied access to the building due to COVID-19 restrictions. Who brings the drugs? Staff.
Governor Kay Ivey has committed hard work and political capital to secure funding for new prisons. She deserves the gratitude of the state. Many other leaders contributed to his efforts and courageously served the state.
The construction of new prisons is a necessary start, and the proposed reform measures are a good start. But lawmakers cannot be allowed to rule out other necessary reforms because they have done this act of conscience.
The Alabama prison system was designed for punishment and economic reward for certain counties. The state must now move beyond this bad model.
Today retribution, disability and rehabilitation deserve equal attention.
If we are to have a civil and safe society, 21st century prisons must be more than a storehouse for the “condemned”.
The state can do better. The adoption this week of the prison plan will prove that it is possible.