Originally published on Alabama Political Reporter
Paul DeMarco wrote a letter to the editor dated January 13, 2020, in which he responded to a recent report by the Campaign for Smart Justice with ACLU of Alabama. The report analyzed 5 years-worth of data and projected a spike in Alabama’s already overcrowded prison population in 2020, mostly due to the parole board considering far fewer people and denying release to 92 percent of people considered.
DeMarco mischaracterized the report and attacked the ACLU with vague and tired rhetoric meant to vilify incarcerated people and those who advocate for smart criminal justice reform, yet failed to provide any evidence that the “reforms” would do anything to make Alabama safe. His false claim that “the ACLU is more worried about convicted felons than the safety of Alabama communities,” could have been lifted from a 1980’s stump speech by any tough talking politician only interested in getting elected on fear, and not substantive, thoughtful, and fair policies.
The ACLU did not ask the board to set prisoners free. The organization simply examined paroles and the relationship to Alabama’s prison population, then sounded the alarm that our prisons are approaching an untenable level of overcrowding. This comes as the Department of Justice already determined our prisons to be unconstitutional due to runaway violence and horrific overcrowding. A responsible government should be held accountable for a legacy crisis like this, and that includes all agencies involved in sending people to prison, managing them in prison and deciding when and whether or not they are set free.
Don’t be fooled. The “reforms” DeMarco supports will do nothing to make Alabamians safe. Instead, it will do the opposite. When the Trump Department of Justice released its findings on Alabama’s prison system it put the State on notice that if it did not reform by fixing the overcrowded, unsanitary, and understaffed prisons, it would face a lawsuit. A lawsuit like that could result in a mandatory release of prisoners without the benefit of the Parole Board’s oversight. DeMarco also glosses over the fact that most violent offenders are either ineligible for release on parole or required to serve at least 85% of their sentences. The time is now to discuss the right way to address our prison population. Victims and advocates deserve a seat at the table as we discuss the way forward, but we must start with facts before we discuss solutions.
We believe the best way to ensure justice for victims is to provide safe containment and meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation and re-entry, so people who break the law won’t do it again. We know that the majority of parole eligible prisoners will ultimately be released whether they are granted parole or not. Sending citizens to hellish prisons with no incentives and no hope of a fair chance at parole does nothing for public safety or crime victims. Instead of attacking Alabamians who are advocating for sound, sober-minded reforms, we should be attacking these very real problems together as one Alabama, moving toward a more just and humane society for all.