Pubdate: Sun, 10 Apr 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Kenneth Glasgow and Kobi Little

Alabama Voices


Alabama prisons are overcrowded. In fact, Alabama prisons are 114 percent 
over capacity and despite the proclamations of certain state officials, 
plenty of the people who are packed like sardines in these prisons can and 
should be released. Many of the people in this category are nonviolent 
offenders who have been reincarcerated because of technical parole violations.

There are hundreds of people in Alabama correctional facilities not because 
they committed more crimes, but because they missed a meeting with their 
parole officer or were noncompliant with other parole regulations.

Yes, it is important for individuals who are on parole to comply with the 
terms of their parole, but in Alabama the problem is that too many people 
are on parole too long. When this happens, parole morphs from a lifeline 
used for successful societal reintegration into a rope that trips and hangs 
people who are trying to lead normal law-abiding lives.

Today in Alabama, there are 11,605 prisoners who are serving time past 
their original parole eligibility date and 2,843 of those persons are 
low-level, nonviolent offenders. Likewise, there are thousands of people 
who, after serving time in prison, are released but are required to remain 
on parole for five to 10 additional years. Herein lies the problem.

Criminologists at the JFA Institute, a leading research organization, have 
determined that beyond the first year parole becomes less effective and is 
a major burden on prisons and parole boards.

Keeping low-level, nonviolent offenders incarcerated is a poor use of 
valuable, limited bed space. Jesus declared that he came to set the captive 
free. For those who love Jesus and his message of reconciliation, it is 
time to speak up and demand sentencing and parole reform. Everyone, from 
individual citizens to religious leaders, to policy makers, to prison 
officials, to corporate executives, has a stake in eliminating prison 
overcrowding and ineffective parole practices.

We can implement meaningful change if we acknowledge that there is a 
problem and that the problem can be solved. In these austere times we must 
look at the fiscal, societal and human impact of prison overcrowding and 
bad sentencing practices and find the will to do better.

We must look at the irrefutable body of evidence that has been presented to 
us by researchers and educate ourselves and others on the importance of 
sentencing and parole reform.

Year in and year out the Alabama Sentencing Commission has made 
recommendations for developing sensible sentencing practices. We applaud 
Sen. Roger Smitherman and Rep. Marcel Black for having the fiscal, common 
and moral sense to introduce Senate Bill 365 and House Bill 647, companion 
bills known as the Effective Parole and Public Safety Act. Now the people 
of Alabama must demand that state legislators take heed and pass this 
legislation mandating the termination of parole for individuals who 
successfully comply with parole guidelines for two years.

The old paradigm in corrections was to respond to prison overcrowding by 
ignoring it, denying it or building new prisons. In the 21st century, 
Alabama must embrace a new paradigm that really solves problems and enables 
all Alabamians to realize their fullest potential. Our policy decisions 
should be guided by a matrix that asks "Does this decision advance justice, 
fairness, reason, compassion, freedom, and spirituality and does it reduce 
death, disease, harm and suffering in our communities?"

In short, Alabama must embrace a new bottom line. Simply stated, the new 
bottom line is this: Alabamians must reform sentencing and parole 
practices, release nonviolent offenders from prison, invest in 
community-based youth and treatment programs, develop effective community 
reintegration programs and open the doors of employment to those who have 
been incarcerated. In so doing we will move our state, our quality of life 
and our economy forward by leaps and bounds. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan is 
the founder and president of The Ordinary People Society, or TOPS. Kobi 
Little of Selma is the founder of the Institute for Theology and Social 
Justice. Together they direct the New Bottom Line Campaign, a statewide 
effort to reform sentencing and other criminal justice practices in Alabama.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman