The prison and jail population in the United States has increased from 200,000 in 1970 to 2.3 million today. African Americans are incarcerated at an increasingly disproportionate rate. One-third of black males born today likely will spend at least some part of their lives behind bars; nearly one-tenth of black males in their twenties already live in prison; and almost one out of three black males in their twenties currently remains in jail, prison, on probation or parole, or otherwise under criminal justice control. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and Latinos at nearly double the rate.
Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act imposes increasingly severe sentences for repeat offenders. People with prior convictions for writing bad checks, simple drug possession, and non-violent theft of property offenses have been sentenced to life without parole under the Act. Altogether, nearly 8000 inmates currently are serving these enhanced sentences, with almost 2000 of them serving life or life without parole.
Alabama’s stringent drug laws, which feature low quantity thresholds and mandatory minimum sentences for all trafficking offenses, expose even first-time offenders to extraordinarily harsh prison sentences.
Alabama’s sentencing scheme for felony drug possession and DUI offenses creates uneven results: African Americans are incarcerated at a far higher rate than whites for drug possession crimes, while the reverse is true for felony DUI offenses; and the average length of sentence for simple drug possession is nearly twice as long as that for felony DUI.