FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
By Melvin Ray
After over a year of research, meetings, studies and other expenditures of tax-payer funds, the Council of State Government (CSG) and the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force (PRTF) have given the Alabama people Senate Bill 67 as the solution to the issues in Alabama prisons and the state’s criminal justice system.
The PRTF and CSG got off to a controversial start when it was revealed that of the 25-member task force, not a single African American male would be part of the decision making process, deliberations, or considerations of the group. Being a black man, the hypocrisy of this struck me from the beginning: Black men, who make up approximately 13% of the total state population, are approximately 60% of the total prison population.
Note** The U.S. GOVERNMENT Bureau of Statistics, shows that 70%% of all crimes ccommitted in the U.S. are ccommitted by white people.
So, this means that the families and communities most affected by the prison and judicial system are black. Yet, in a way that only a state like Alabama can explain, not a single black man was invited to discuss what solutions would be best to fix a problem that has been created by people who look just like the CSG committee and the PRTF — predominately white men.
Alabama prisons currently hold over 30,000 people in space designed to hold less than 14,000 people. Of this 30,000, approximately 80% of ALL people who enter into ADOC are functionally illiterate — or worse. Most of these people are young, poor, unskilled, and addicted to some type of drug. The problems made manifest in such a setting are predictable and expected.
Overcrowding serves to breed problems:
First, the budget is fixed to serve just over 13,000 , while the prisons hold 30,000-plus. With low budgets, the cheap, undercooked food being served lacks nutrition, inadequate portions, and consists mainly of processed foods. In a word, the people in Alabama prisons are malnourished.
UNSANITARY WATER SUPPLY
The water system in Alabama’s prisons was designed to filter and serve less than 14,000 people. So imagine what happens when this system is overburdened with 30,000-plus people. First, the water is not properly filtered before it enters back into the prisons. This contaminated drinking water is the major contributor to most ailments in Alabama prisons.
Food isn’t properly cleaned. Bodies aren’t cleaned. Clothes aren’t properly cleaned. Thus, diseases, infections, cancers, and deaths ensue.
Then, you have people literally stacked on top of each other. This breeds other problems: frustration, depression, and mental illnesses.
Untreated mental, emotional, psychological and addiction issues lead invariably to violent settings. St. Clair prison is Exhibit A in this crisis.
Death and disease are so widespread due to inadequate resources for meaningful healthcare.
Quarantines for outbreaks of TB, scabies, and Staph (and now food-food-poisoning) are now common protocols.
Sometimes, staff, family members who visit, lawyers, and people in the prisons aren’t even informed of outbreaks due to delays in detection.
Then, you have the actual living conditions. Filth is everywhere. The water supply is contaminated. Showers are almost always cold due to overuse because the water system wasn’t designed for so many people. Cleanliness is a constant issue. Mold, mildew, rats, roaches, spiders, snakes, and bugs are in every crack and crevice. Repairs to all areas of the infrastructure are needed, with some prisons being over 40 years old.
Health, food, and fire inspectors are rarely seen. When they are present, they are not doing their jobs of accurately reporting on the wholesale violations that are so prevalent.
However, when one examines SB 67, one doesn’t see a single one of these issues being addressed.
The human costs and abuse associated with reform needs are being totally ignored because no one cares about the inhumane, uncivilized treatment of men and women in prison. And certainly not those in Alabama’s prisons, who are majority black and all poor.
In fact, the PRTF is calling for 2,000 more beds to be added to existing facilities. Senator Cam Ward has stated that the goal is to reduce overcrowding to 140%, which courts have said is acceptable. But the question to ask is: why can a state Senator openly say that his goal is to violate a health/fire code for maximum occupancy, and feel no consequences whatsoever? Where is the Fire Marshall to remind Senator Ward that fire codes are to be strictly complied with, including occupancy rates? A Fire Marshall will close down a night club, a basketball arena, or a restaurant for being over-capacity, but here we see that the law doesn’t apply to the prisons.
Instead, it is the *goal* of Alabama officials to have a illegal, overcrowded prison system and the Fire Marshall says nothing.
SB 67 doesn’t address any of these issues. Sen. Cam Ward and his cabal have sat down as if they were doctors, to solve a problem without asking their patients a single question about what is wrong or what could be done to fix the problems. To my knowledge, the PRTF did not enter into a single prison and ask the occupants about our issues, where the problems areas are, or what solutions we see as being needed. Nor did they enter into a single black community, which is where mass incarceration has had it worst effects, to see how these issues should be addressed. White men in Alabama are not accustomed to consulting Black men on problems, even those problems created by white men that disproportionately affect black men, like mass incarceration.
Some Alabama prisons house in excess of 1,000 people – most of whom are illiterate – and don’t even provide a GED program, let alone sustainable job skills programs. There are currently no gang-intervention programs, no community volunteer programs at the community custody facilities, no Life Skills programs – and SB 67 is not calling for any of them. These are programs that most Black community leaders, religious leaders, mothers, and fathers will tell you that our communities need from the ADOC while they are holding these men for decades at a time. Yet, Senator Ward doesn’t see a need for Black voices on the PRTF or the all-white CSG.
In Alabama, where uneducated people fill the system, education is neither encouraged nor mandated. A person with a 10-year Sentence with no GED, skill or trade, and who has a known drug or alcohol addiction, does not have to attend school, learn a skill or trade, participate in any program — and can still earn Incentive Good Time. How can a person earn “good time” if they are not actively addressing their shortcomings and issues that lead them to prison in the first place?
As for the Alabama Parole Board, one has to wonder just how much longer the charade can go on. In 2015, they still don’t allow a person to attend their own hearing. We can watch Satellite television, use Tango and Skype, but the Parole Board still can’t find a way to hear from the person (not a file) going up for parole.
The hearing itself is a show of power and disrespect. The parolee gets all of two speakers, who each get 5 minutes to speak. A person who has made 20 years of change has to have someone else try to communicate that change in 2 five-minute exchanges. Then, the victim of the crime gets to speak.
They get unlimited speakers, for an unlimited time. If a victim can’t attend, no problem. Hired speakers (called Victim’s Advocates), on tax-payer dime, can speak. Again, they are not restricted by any time constraints, whatsoever.
The facts of the crime are already known. A parole hearing is supposed to be about what changes the person has made to show that they have learned from their mistake, improved themselves, and are now prepared for another chance at society.
The parole board sits on the file for decades, and never even sets out a curriculum for what they expect to see from a person vying for parole. It is all a tax-payer funded dog-and-pony show scam.
SB 67 is nothing more than an expansion of the scheme.
SB 67 is joining the nationwide, elaborate money grab operation (that once again is being funded by tax dollars) fueled by discriminatory practices in arrest, conviction, sentencing, and parole, and in the end, financial exploitation. Multiple “private prison” companies, “non-profit” organizations and community corrections companies will rely on more convictions, parole and probation violations, alternative sentencing, and the like to tax, fine, fee, and charge poor people til death.
So-called “regional” jails will be built for private jail operators to receive even more tax payer funds.
Work release-style facilities will be created – where SB 67 authorizes up to 65% of gross earning to be deducted from the paychecks of already poor people – to go into the pockets of the “community corrections” companies that will charge to serve as collection agencies.
The kickbacks from these contracts will be in the form of campaign contribution to people like Senator Cam Ward.
The greatest benefit from SB 67 will continue to be the massive amounts of free labor that is being exploited from the men and women in Alabama prisons. These prison industries, funded by tax dollars, are generating billions of dollars in revenue. However, no one knows how large these industries are, or where all of the products or money from these industries are going.
For example, Alabama Correctional Industries runs a $25 million-dollar chemical plant at St. Clair prison. Where is that money going to? ADOC has a cattle ranch and a fish pond. Where is all beef and fish going? It certainly isn’t making its way to the kitchens in the prisons. Elmore runs the largest recycling plant in the State. Where are the proceeds?
And in spite of all of this free labor, no credit is deducted from the sentence. No deductions from the fines or court costs that a person may have. No deductions for child support that continues to accrue, even though the father or mother is working 8, 10, 12 hours days for free or pennies in wages.
In addition to this, a person who is forced to work for free every day also must pay a medical co-pay when they get sick. Where is this money supposed to come from? That is where the exploitation of our families comes in, because when they do send us money, the State deducts their “charges” first and we get what’s left.
SB 67 is nothing more than a continuation of these practices, only now the exploitation is moving away from the prisons and closer to the communities.