MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The ACLU of Alabama today released a report that outlines how Alabama can cut incarceration in half by pursuing reforms like changing drug sentencing laws and sentencing enhancement laws, reducing sentencing ranges, and addressing its juvenile justice system.
The 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.
The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints is the first-ever analysis of its kind and will serve as a tool for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.
The 51 reports (covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia) will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports, including Alabama. The state reports provide a snapshot of how reformers cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to ending mass incarceration.
The Blueprint includes an overview of Alabama's incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long.
The Blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population and progress towards a 50% decarceration goal.
In June 2017, Alabama's state-run prisons were operating at an astonishing 164 percent of design capacity – the most overcrowded system in the country. Meanwhile, in 2015, more than 70 percent of people in Alabama county jails had not been convicted of a crime and were still awaiting trial. Lengthy sentences are leading to longer sentences, such that the proportion of people in Alabama prisons over 50 has doubled between 2007 and 2015.
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 2016, Alabama spent nearly half a billion dollars of its general fund on corrections, an increase of 126 percent since 1985, which far outpaces growth in spending on higher education.
"Alabama voters, advocates, policymakers, and prosecutors have a crucial choice to make: continue our overreliance 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.
"The shape of mass incarceration in Massachusetts or Ohio looks different than it does in Arizona or Louisiana. But no matter where you are, the fact is there are far too many people behind bars," said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. "We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations."
The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is viewable here: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org/states/alabama/
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We are working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration.
For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice: https://www.aclualabama.org/smartjustice