Dear Rep. England:
In 2000, the Alabama Legislature passed an amendment to the Habitual Felony Offender Act, which granted people serving time pursuant to this act potential sentencing relief, including people who were sentenced for a violent crime. This law ultimately became known as the Kirby law.
Pursuant to Kirby, any person who had been sentenced after March 1, 2001, as a habitual offender could file a motion seeking a sentence reduction, including people who had been convicted of a violent offense. The burden was on the convicted person to demonstrate that, even though they had been convicted of a violent offense, they were not a violent person, per se. Meaning, they didn’t have a history of prior violent felony convictions and they had demonstrated during their incarceration that they were not or no longer a violent threat to the community. The individual was also allowed to show rehabilitation.
After granting less than 700 such motions, the so-called Kirby law was repealed in 2014 by Senator Cam Ward’s SB84.
One does not need to rehash the issues that have been caused by overcrowding or over-sentencing in Alabama. Nor is it necessary to discuss the prominent role that the Habitual Felony Offender Act plays in all of this.
Here is the issue that we have with all of this and what we are requesting that you respond to and explain:
On February 26, 2020, after the conclusion of the Prison Reform Study Group, you co-sponsored a Bill, HB329, which you proposed as a solution to Alabama’s prison issues. However, your Bill offers less of a legal remedy to suffering families who have already gone decades without a loved one than the Kirby law that was repealed. The reason why Kirby was repealed was because it was no longer being used to grant relief to anyone, violent or non-violent.
The Bill you sponsored states that it applies only to people who have been convicted on a “non-violent” felony.
This means that a person whose current felony conviction is for a violent offense is not even eligible to apply for relief under your Bill.
In comparison, pursuant to the since repealed Kirby law, even a person whose current conviction was for a violent offense could apply for the relief because, as the Alabama Supreme Court stated in Kirby, many people whose sentences were enhanced by the HFOA were enhanced by all non-violent prior felonies.
One of the many questions we have for you is, why are you sponsoring a law for non-violent applicants only, when a more stronger law that included relief for violent and non-violent offenders has already been enacted and repealed?
Surely, you have to know that most non-violent offenders have already received the benefit of the Kirby law? This makes your legislation seem very suspect.
In addition, it appears that you didn’t learn much from your participation on the Prison Reform Study Group. Anyone who followed that process closely knows that Alabama has an aging prison population that is filled with appx. 6000 people who were sentenced as a habitual offender. Your Bill will help less than 600 of them.
Also, your Bill is discretionary. This means that the decision of whether to resentence someone or not would be left in the hands of the judges and prosecutors, some of whom already had discretion in the first place and used it to hand out the maximum punishment.
In no way does your Bill propose to solve a problem. It does not speak with the decisive and mandatory language that is needed for this crisis. Instead, you seem to want to pass the matter of coming forward with a “solution” on to someone else, in their discretion. If that is so, then why should the People from your district continue to look to you for leadership and solutions to problems when it is clear from your actions that you are incapable of providing such results?
To say that the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” legislation of the past has been a war on the Black community is an understatement. All you have to do is look at the prison population and the grave yard for that proof. Our Elders and Ancestors, and our allies fought for Representation is the government so that we could have people from our own communities in positions of power to stop the abuses that were being inflicted on us.
Knowing these things and viewing them in light of your legislation begs the question: how does your Bill push forward the process of remeding these problems?
Rep. England, we are asking that you withdraw your Bill and to resubmit a more robust Bill that will repeal the Habitual Felony Offender Act and make the current sentencing guidelines retroactive. In addition, we are asking that you craft legislation that will create a criteria for parole that will make parole mandatory for every person who completes their parole curriculum.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has a $620,000,000.00 million dollar budget. It is inconceivable that, if appx. $22,000.00 is spent each year per individual incarcerated, those $22,000 dollars can’t be invested in a way that rehabilitates over a specific period of time. Even our colleges and universities have a curriculum established that, upon completion, over a set course of time, renders one capable of graduation. Many of these degrees cost less than $22,000.00 dollars, total, let alone $22,000.00 per year.
Otherwise, we will ask the Black community to repeal you.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT