Criminal Justice Reform in Alabama

Alabama’s criminal justice system is in crisis. Mass incarceration, severe prison overcrowding, budget-busting costs and unfair sentencing have created conditions and practices that threaten the state’s resources and basic human rights. Alabama’s criminal justice system has marginalized thousands of residents and devastated many poor and minority communities while failing to improve public safety in any appreciable way. Many criminal justice policies have contributed to endemic hopelessness and dysfunctional and criminal behavior and have proven to be very ineffective.

The costs of many criminal justice policies have additionally created a fiscal crisis. Education spending and state planning and development have been undermined by out-ofcontrol prison costs and financial demands generated by sentencing policies and misguided practices.

These problems have been fostered by a lack of information and critical analysis and shielded by a legal and political culture that is fearful of sensible reform unless it appears “tough on crime.” This report provides a critical assessment of many criminal justice issues in the hope that more informed debate, dialogue and decision-making can take place in Alabama.

This report addresses sentencing, probation, prison conditions and parole in Alabama. Alabama’s sentencing laws, ineffective use of probation, unregulated and politicized parole procedures and an underfunded prison system have conspired to create one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The consequences are devastating for poor people and people of color as well as Alabama’s economic, social and political health. Alabama’s political and legal culture allows politicians to use prisons and punishment to manage social and health care problems. This ill-advised approach has resulted in record deficits and a fiscal crisis that creates both a serious threat to public welfare and an opportunity for significant reform.