In a press release issued 9/3/20 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was announced that U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson issued a 124-page ruling for external federal monitoring of Alabama’s currently unconstitutional correctional mental health system with a focus on chronic understaffing and underfunding. The ruling came on a week when ADOC reported its 20th death due to COVID-19 and Gov. Ivey announced state plans to lease three new prisons to be constructed and managed by private companies.
Alabama’s prison system is currently a third-world hell hole and, simply put, the feds are fed up with Alabama’s perennial prison problems. There is consensus from the federal government and independent watch dog organizations that it needs massive reform from top to bottom. Sadly, many politicians think the issues will magically disappear when they have three new prisons to fill.
However, these problems deal more with the toxic and violent culture of ADOC than the crumbling prison structures that desperately need to be replaced. There’s lots of room for finger-pointing and blame, but the truth is that this has been going on for decades. In Alabama, it’s hard enough to get tax dollars to pay for basic infrastructure needs, but it’s nearly impossible to get adequate prison funding in a state that thinks it’s acceptable to treat offenders as sub-human.
How many times have you heard clichés like, “You do the crime, you do the time!”
In fact, Alabama spent decades electing “law and order” politicians on both sides of the aisle that promised harsher and harsher sentences. Yet, when it came time to fund these arguably ineffective ideas, nobody wanted to pay the bill. Well, they may have been effective in terms of being more punitive, but they did little to prevent crime or impact rates of recidivism. So, the prisons deteriorated, inmate populations increased to dangerous levels, funding kept getting cut, and chronic understaffing became the norm. Furthermore, many legislators encouraged or ignored the glaringly obvious racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing.
Now, Alabama has a real crisis on its hands. A crisis that could have been averted, but one that will be extraordinarily expensive to fix, especially as the state deals with the devastating economic consequences of the coronavirus.
Whether radical conservatives want to acknowledge it or not, people who commit crimes are still human beings. Yes, they deserve to be punished, and when appropriate, incarcerated for the crimes they commit, but it doesn’t mean that they should be beaten, raped, degraded, de-humanized, or enslaved. Further, if society is genuinely concerned about decreasing the likelihood of an inmate committing repeat offenses upon release, it’s a no-brainer that the state should fund prison programs focused on rehabilitation and pathways for successful re-entry into society.
For years, America has led the world in incarcerations per capita. It’s a fact, check it. Also, sentencing has gotten harsher and longer. Yet the salient question remains, is America any safer today as a result of its decades-long, failed “War on Drugs” or “throw away the key” approach to policing, sentencing, and incarceration?
Reforming Alabama’s criminal justice system is undoubtedly a herculean task that’s long overdue. It’s time for elected officials to quit spewing fear-mongering rhetoric and get real with the people they serve. It’s time to end racial disparities in arrests, convictions, and sentencing. It’s time for renewed focus on meaningful rehabilitation and viable avenues for re-entry into society. It’s time to end the horrific human rights abuses that occur way too often with scant attention or consequence.
This isn’t a problem that will go away by itself or be solved with privately run prisons. The enormous financial and societal costs will only get bigger over time. The feds are certainly fed up with Alabama’s criminal justice system and, to be honest, you should be as well.