Prisons and Sentencing Reform

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The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The increase in the jail and prison population from 200,000 to 2.3 million in the past 40 years has lead to unprecedented prison overcrowding and put tremendous strain on state budgets. “Tough on crime” policy has created a growing underclass of ex-prisoners who are barred from productively re-entering society by increasingly numerous and onerous restrictions on things like applying for a driver's license, adopting a child, voting, and receiving federal aid for education or food in many states.

Alabama’s prisons were built to hold 14,000 prisoners. Today, they hold 28,000. The state faces an overcrowding crisis created by the tremendous increase in the number of people sent to prison in the last 25 years.

Alabama spends only $26 a day per prisoner; the national average is $62. It spends the least of any state in the country on medical care for inmates. Alabama’s prisons have the highest inmate to correctional officer ratio in the country. Many have waiting lists for solitary confinement. Unsafe prison conditions have given rise to lawsuits in which courts have found that crowding in state and local facilities is “barbaric.”

Alabama inmates have been forced to sleep on concrete floors in facilities were the “sardine-can appearance of cell units more nearly resemble the holding units of slave ships during the Middle Passage of the eighteenth century than anything in the twenty-first century.”

Alabama also is home to some of the nation's harshest sex offender registration and residency restrictions. Alabama's Community Notification Act applies to everyone convicted of a sex offense, regardless of the nature of the offense. It bars people from living within 2000 feet of a college, school, or day care center. Many people have been left homeless or deprived of critical medical care because they cannot find homes that comply with the CNA. Indeed, people have been convicted of a felony offense and sentenced to 10 additional years in prison because they were unable to identify a CNA-compliant residential address prior to their release from prison.

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