Pubdate: Tue, 01 Nov 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: John Davis, Montgomery Advertiser
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Cited: Alabama Prison Crisis: A Justice Strategies Policy Report
Cited: Alabama Sentencing Commission
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Efforts to divert drug addicts and other nonviolent criminals away
from state prisons are gaining momentum months before Alabama's 2006
legislative session.

On Monday, the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates the
legalization of medical marijuana and policy changes in the way America
deals with drug addicts, released "Alabama Prison Crisis: A Justice
Strategies Policy Report."

"Substance abuse is driving the prison crisis," said Kevin Pranis, an
analyst with Justice Strategies, the New York-based nonprofit group
commissioned to do the report.

The Drug Policy Alliance and the Sentencing Commission support
voluntary sentencing guidelines for Alabama's judges and an expansion
of community-based rehabilitation programs. The Justice Strategies
report echoes some of the prison reform legislation now being vetted
by Gov. Bob Riley and others.

"You look at the two sides and what they identify," said Rep. Locy
Baker, D-Abbeville, on Monday as he joined a representative from the
Drug Policy Alliance and others at a news conference announcing the

The Riley Administration has made reducing Alabama's prison
population, now at twice the system's design capacity, a high priority.

Last week, Riley received recommendations from his 11-member Task
Force on Prison Crowding. The committee has asked for at least nine
bills in the next legislative session, including eight measures backed
by the Alabama Sentencing Commission.

The task force recommendations include a sentencing reform bill that
has failed twice in the Legislature, passing the House both times only
to get bogged down in the Senate. The bill calls for voluntary
sentencing standards for 26 felonies. Historically, the list of
felonies covers 87 percent of convictions in Alabama

Riley has given preliminary support to the task force's
recommendations and plans to put a copy of them in the hands of all
140 legislators. The Drug Policy Alliance likewise is distributing its
report to the governor and Alabama lawmakers.

Alabama led the nation in reducing its prison population last year
thanks to an accelerated parole program for nonviolent offenders. Now
that the parole plan has run its course, the state prison population
is on the rise again.

"It was only a stopgap measure," said Pranis, noting that more changes
are needed to get prison growth under control.

Legislation to divert drug addicts away from state prisons and into
community programs also has the support of the New Bottom Line
Campaign, a coalition that supports sentencing reform.

"Addiction is a disease," said the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan,
co-director of the campaign. "It's not a crime."

Glasgow founded The Ordinary People Society, or TOPS, a
religious-based nonprofit group that works with convicts and at-risk

The Rev. Kobi Little of Selma, campaign co-director, decried the
racial disparity of Alabama's prison population. Little cited figures
in the Drug Policy Alliance report indicating that although blacks
make up 26 percent of Alabama's residents, they constitute 60 percent
of the state's inmate population.

"We're not substantively dealing with (drug addiction) as a public
health problem," he said. Little, a resident of Selma, is the founder
of the Institute for Theology and Social Justice. 
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