The ACLU of Alabama condemns Governor Ivey’s reckless decision to put the state of Alabama into a multi-billion-dollar lease to build new prisons, despite overwhelming opposition from community members and state leaders of both parties. Prison construction is not and has never been the answer to the unconstitutional conditions in Alabama prisons, and the Department of Justice said as much when it issued the first report in April 2019, so it is outrageous to see Governor Ivey waste billions of taxpayer dollars on continuing the state’s dependency on incarceration. Furthermore, the lack of transparency and oversight around these contracts and the full cost to the state will have unforeseen consequences for Alabama’s economy and financial security for decades to come.
But as plans move forward on constructing buildings that won’t be available for at least three years, we must not lose sight of the urgency of the current prison crisis. Alabama state prisons are the most violent and deadly in the world, and as recently as this past week, we have learned of more tragic deaths and abuse. While investigators look into what happened in December when Tommy Rutledge died from hyperthermia after being held in an over-100 degree cell, we have also learned about corrections officers attacking incarcerated organizers over the weekend, leading to Robert Earl Council being airlifted to UAB for severe head trauma.
This culture of violence, sexual assault, brutality, and neglect, and the state’s indifference to doing anything to provide immediate relief, led to the DOJ filing suit against ADOC last month. Without substantive reforms through the Legislature, the DOJ litigation could lead to even more federally imposed costs, while also doing nothing to prevent the new prison buildings from ending up in the same state of overcrowding and disrepair.
With Legislative Session starting this week, it is now up to lawmakers to do what they can to finally address extreme and persistent prison overcrowding, like repealing Alabama’s draconian “three strikes law,” the Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA). HFOA is a major contributor to overcrowding, and it is past time that the Legislature repeal this broken law. Rep. Chris England has filed a bill that is on the agenda this week, and it would be a significant step towards overhauling HFOA, easing the current overcrowding crisis, reducing the costs of long-term incarceration, and giving people a chance to be redeemed and re-enter society. If it comes up for a vote on Wednesday in the House Judiciary committee, legislators must vote yes.