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The ACLU of Alabama has released a new report denouncing what it describes as the Alabama Legislature’s push to increase criminal penalties and incarceration as opposed to what it considers more progressive criminal justice policies.
“The Alabama Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline” report says 148 of 873 bills introduced in the Legislature this year were “pipeline” bills because they impose punishment instead of ideas that would help resolve prison overcrowding or reforms such as more options for voting. Only 32 of the “pipeline bills” passed and most of those were local laws that affected only one county, such as new fees collected by law enforcement.
But the report says the push for legislation to criminalize or increase penalties for individual behavior, expand the authority of law enforcement, and adopt policies it considers unconstitutional will worsen problems like the state prison crisis.
“Our leaders can no longer abdicate their responsibility to address the crisis in our prisons and our dysfunctional criminal justice system, and more pipeline legislation is not a meaningful solution,” Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said in a news release.
(You can see the report at the end of this article.)
The ACLU of Alabama is a longtime critic of the state’s criminal justice policies and has called for sentencing reforms and other changes. The U.S. Department of Justice has alleged that conditions in Alabama prisons violate the rights of the incarcerated men because of the levels of violence and other problems.
Among the legislation criticized in the report is the law making it a crime to provide puberty blockers and hormones for transgender minors to help them transition. That legislation passed but has been blocked by a federal court. Alabama was the first state to apply felony penalties to what parents and advocates say is vital care for youth with gender dysphoria. Advocates for the bill say it was to protect minors from the long-range consequences of medical treatments that should be limited to adults.
The report denounced a bill that defines rioting and imposes mandatory jail time after an arrest for rioting, legislation that critics said would stifle peaceful protest. The bill came in response to the violence that broke out at a Birmingham protest in the summer of 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The sponsor, Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said police needed a stronger law to stop organized efforts to hijack protests and cause violence. The bill did not pass.
The report says Alabama lawmakers have not promoted more access to voting. It criticizes a ban on curbside voting, which passed. It says the Legislature should have approved a bill for “no-excuse” absentee voting, allowing anyone to vote by mail without having to state a specific reason.
The report calls on the Legislature to pass a bill to repealing the Habitual Offender Act and to set new guidelines and oversight for the parole board, which has sharply reduced the rate of paroles granted over the last few years.
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