U.S. Justice Action Network Urges Alabama House to Reject Costly New Prison Plan

Syrita Bowen News, Uncategorized

We’re calling on the Alabama Legislature to reject a plan that would cost taxpayers at least $1.5 billion—doubling the state’s annual debt obligations—without solving the problem of overcrowding in the state’s prison system. We are putting the weight of our partner organizations behind efforts to reject the refiled Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act, as the costly and irresponsible measure would fail to adequately address Alabama’s prison crisis.

Here’s what Holly Harris, representatives from our national coalition, and Alabama partners had to say about the plan:

Holly Harris, Executive Director, U.S. Justice Action Network: “This massive prison building plan does not fix the issues with Alabama’s prisons, but it will give taxpayers heartburn. This plan would trigger over $1.5 billion in costs and still leave the state with overcrowded correctional facilities. We call on the Alabama Legislature to reject this plan and continue working on real reforms that provide a safer and more effective justice system.”

Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime: “We commend Alabama policymakers for implementing many criminal justice reforms that follow Right on Crime’s conservative principles as part of the 2015 justice reinvestment initiative. These reforms hold nonviolent offenders accountable in the community and focus prison beds on serious and dangerous offenders. Alabama can learn from Texas, which in 2007 opted against building new prisons that were projected to be needed and has since seen a 24 percent drop in crime while saving taxpayers billions of dollars Rather than spending $1.5 billion of Alabama taxpayer dollars on new prisons, policymakers should give the 2015 justice reinvestment package more time to continue relieving prison overcrowding and explore additional policy changes that have worked in other states.”

Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform: “Building new prisons does not solve Alabama’s crime problems – in fact, it’s putting a Band-Aid on problems caused by yesterday’s failed approaches. Instead, Alabama should look to other states that are successfully shrinking their prison populations while reducing crime and taxpayer spending.”

Will Harrell, Southern Regional Director, Campaign for Smart Justice, ACLU: “We need to address the appallingly high prison population in Alabama, but building new prisons is not the answer. Meaningful reforms like SB 67 that reduce the cost to taxpayers by directly addressing the causes of over-incarceration, such as improving supervision of those leaving prison, were a good start but more work is needed. Unfortunately, The Prison Transformation Initiative Act is a step in the wrong direction. We urge Alabama to stop this plan and pursue real reforms that can cut the incarceration rate in the state and keep it down.”

Ebony Howard, Associate Legal Director, Southern Poverty Law Center: “Spending $1.5 billion in taxpayer money to build new prisons will not solve the current crises facing Alabama’s prison system.  Instead, the state needs to take a comprehensive approach.  Without further sentencing reforms to decrease the number of people entering prisons and policies to expedite the release of prisoners who do not threaten public safety, the state will continue to face the same problems 10 years from now. Alabama can’t afford to make this expensive mistake.”

Ed Chung, Vice President, Criminal Justice Reform, Center for American Progress: “States across the country have been able to reduce their overcrowded prisons without building new ones by implementing true criminal justice reforms. We urge Alabama to continue to make meaningful reforms to its justice system that will both decrease its prison population and improve public safety.”

Timothy Head, Executive Director, Faith and Freedom Coalition“Alabama’s severely overcrowded and costly prison system is a major problem, but the state recently took a giant step forward in its effort to fix the problem through a justice reinvestment initiative that projects to dramatically relieve prison overcrowding and lower costs over the next three to five years. The reforms that Alabama has enacted as part of its justice reinvestment effort will help make Alabama communities safer by effectively reducing recidivism through investments in drug treatment, mental health and other programs. We have seen the positive results for public safety because of these reforms in states like Texas and Georgia and look for similar results in Alabama. However, the Governor and the Alabama legislature could potentially harm this effort with their plan to construct four new prisons through a bond proposal. New prison construction will not solve the overcrowding issue, will not make Alabama communities safer, and will cost the taxpayers an additional $1.5 billion.”

Adam Brandon, President and CEO, FreedomWorks“Alabama took a significant step forward a few years ago by passing a justice reinvestment package designed to responsibly address prison overcrowding and save taxpayers some $380 million in prison construction costs. Gov. Bentley’s Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative is a fiscally irresponsible step backward. FreedomWorks urges lawmakers to reject this costly bond proposal.”

Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “Alabama has long had one of the highest incarceration rates and most overcrowded prison systems in the country, with state prisons operating at roughly 175 percent of capacity and with a prison population disproportionately African American and Hispanic. To fully address this human rights crisis, Alabama should build on its recent reform efforts by targeting the true drivers of overcriminalization and over-incarceration. Building expensive new prisons will neither reduce the state’s inhumane warehousing of people nor increase public safety. The Alabama legislature should reject this legislation and instead find a path forward to address disparities and curb the high prison population.”

Bernard Simelton, President, Alabama State Conference of the NAACP: “This legislation is a step backwards for the State of Alabama.  Instead of suggesting concrete actions to address prison overcrowding and stark racial disparities, it proposes new prisons.  The legislature should reject this plan and advance proactive measures to reform our overused and inhumane prison system.”