Criminal justice advocates gather ahead of major Alabama prison reform legislation

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Criminal justice advocates packed the State House in Montgomery Tuesday to meet with lawmakers as they begin debating criminal justice reform.

“Alabamians For Fair Justice is here today for our lobby day in order to bring the people most impacted by the incarceration system right here in Alabama directly to lawmakers in order to ask them to enact changes,” said Dillon Nettles, policy analyst for the ACLU of Alabama.

Devin Hill, who spent 20 years in the Alabama prison system, is one of those advocates who met with lawmakers Tuesday.

“My message to them was, just trying to get them to enact sensible policy,” Hill said.

Hill said he was once considered a violent offender, but now he’s out and is licensed to drive commercial trucks. He said he is fighting for sentencing reform.

“You have people doing forever for minor crimes, it don’t make sense,” he said. “It was too many people, too many people.”

Here are some of those polices the group would like to see reformed:

  • Repealing Alabama’s “three strikes” law, also called the Habitual Felony Offender Act. About 6,000 people in Alabama are serving escalated sentences based on prior offenses, often committed as teenagers. The law permits a life without parole sentence for a single Class A felony if someone has a prior minor drug or property conviction. About 500 Alabamians are sentenced to die in prison for non-homicide crimes under this law.
  • Reducing sentences for marijuana possession. Each year, nearly 1,000 people face felony convictions for marijuana possession, a “crime” that is legal for nearly half of the population in the United States. Alabama spends roughly $22 million tax dollars per year to enforce possession laws.     
  • Making the 2013 sentencing guidelines retroactive. The 2013 presumptive sentencing guidelines were a major contributor to Alabama’s prison population declining. Now, hundreds of people sentenced before 2013 still serve longer sentences than they would face if sentenced now – and for nonviolent crimes. AFJ is asking for the legislature to apply the same guidelines to people convicted prior to the new guidelines.
  • Overhaul the state’s community corrections, diversion, and alternative court programs to make them more accessible, especially to people without money, and more accountable to the taxpayers of Alabama. Currently, these programs have no uniform standards, lack necessary oversight, and are funded by the participants.  
  • Reform the state’s parole system. Roughly nine out of every 10 people up for parole were denied since Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Charles Graddick as the director of Alabama’s Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. If this rate continues, ACLU of Alabama estimates the state prison population will increase by 3,700 people due to the dramatic drop in paroles being granted. 

The lobby day was organized by Alabamians for Fair Justice.  


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