ACLU of Alabama outlines how to cut the state’s prison population in half

Prison Jail

Out of the 2+ million people who are behind bars in this country, about 90 percent are held in local jails and state prisons, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama has released a new report outlining how Alabama in particular can cut incarceration rates in half.

Alabama incarceration
[Photo Credit: ACLU]

Currently, 28,296 people are locked up in Alabama prisons, says the ACLU of Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), state facilities are are at 160 percent of their intended occupancy — the most overcrowded system in the country — as they’re collectively designed to hold only only 13,000 prisoners. The ACLU of Alabama says prosecutors, judges, the state’s parole board and state lawmakers have the ability to change these stats if they pursue reforms like changing drug sentencing laws and sentencing enhancement laws, reducing sentencing ranges, and addressing its juvenile justice system.

The new report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.

In the coming weeks, the ACLU of Alabama will convene briefings with advocates and policymakers to share the findings of the Blueprint and discuss strategies on how to move the criminal justice reform agenda further forward.

“If Alabama were to follow these and other reforms in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, 12,511 fewer people would be in prison in Alabama by 2025, saving nearly $470 million that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities,” reads the report’s website.

According to the report, Alabama can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:

  • Reducing the amount of time people spend in prison by reforming harsh drug laws by amending the criminal code
  • Doing away with direct and discretionary transfers of juveniles to adult court.
  • Increasing the value threshold that defines whether a property offense is a misdemeanor or a felony.
  • Eliminating or significantly scaling back mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Repealing Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, which is one of the most punitive habitual offender laws in the country.
  • Releasing aging people in prison who pose no threat to public safety.

Looking back 2015, more than 70 percent of people in Alabama county jails had not been convicted of a crime and were still awaiting trial. According to the ACLU of Alabama, “practices like this that are funneling more people into prison and having them stay there for longer and longer periods of time is creating a strain on Alabama’s budget.” In fact, in 2016, Alabama spent nearly half a billion dollars of its general fund on corrections, which represents an increase of 126 percent since 1985, a figure that far outpaces growth in spending on higher education.

“Alabama voters, advocates, policymakers, and prosecutors have a crucial choice to make: continue our over-reliance on incarceration that is stifling our state and hurting our communities, or move forward by building a new, more compassionate, more humane systems of accountability that puts people before prisons,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.