By Alabama Appleseed Staff
The 2021 Alabama Regular Session will begin on February 2, 2021.
Below is a summary of key human rights and criminal justice issues we anticipate will be under active, serious deliberation by the legislature in 2021.
To make our communities safer, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and begin to address the staggering racial disparities in Alabama’s criminal justice system, the Alabama legislature should:
Repeal or reform the Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA or “three strikes” law)
HB107 and HB24
Legislation will be introduced to repeal Alabama’s draconian Habitual Felony Offender Act which ensnares hundreds of older individuals for life or life without parole sentences for offenses that would result in much shorter sentences under today’s laws.
We support reform or repeal of the current HFOA law for the following reasons:
- Hundreds of people in Alabama are serving life without parole sentences for crimes that resulted in no physical injury
- The 1980s-era law has been applied with staggering racial bias as 75% of people sentenced to die in prison under the HFOA are Black
- This group of prisoners is disproportionately older (50 and above), including many with strong records of rehabilitation, thus low risk for recidivism. It is counterproductive to research and evidence to keep them incarcerated
- Alabama taxpayers continue to spend exhaustive amounts of money on housing incarcerated individuals who have been rehabilitated for decades
Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture
We expect legislation to be introduced that would end civil asset forfeiture (replacing it with the criminal forfeiture process in all instances), require transparency in the criminal asset forfeiture process, and prohibit Alabama law enforcement from receiving proceeds from the federal civil asset forfeiture programs. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because civil asset forfeiture:
- Disproportionately harms Alabama’s most vulnerable;
- Incentivizes the pursuit of profit over the fair administration of justice;
- Turns the presumption of innocence on its head by forcing property owners to defend their property’s “innocence.”
- Builds on the 2019 bill we passed creating a public database on forfeiture cases.
Report: Forfeiting Your Rights: How Alabama’s Profit-Driven Civil Asset Forfeiture Scheme Undercuts Due Process and Property Rights
End Needless Drivers License Suspensions
Legislation will be introduced that would stop the practice of driver’s license suspensions for things unrelated to dangerous driving – namely unpaid fines and fees, and failure to appear in court. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because our research has found that this practice:
- Hurts families by making breadwinners forego basic necessities or take out high-interest payday loans to pay what they owe
- Slows the economy by keeping people out of work
- Leads people to commit crimes to pay off their tickets, such as theft or sale of drugs
Report: Stalled: How Alabama’s Destructive Practice of Suspending Drivers Licenses for Unpaid Traffic Debt Hurts People and Slows Economic Progress
Create Diversion Program Study Commission
Legislation will be introduced that creates a commission to study the use and effectiveness of diversion programs throughout the state. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation for all of the following reasons:
- Alabama’s tangle of overlapping, unaccountable, and expensive diversion programs are not equally available to people who most need them
- Structural obstacles force participants to make unconscionable choices in order to succeed
- Costs, requirements, and access vary widely among counties and programs, providing opportunities for success only to those with greater resources
- Without accessibility, transparency, and reforms that account for the lived reality of people across Alabama, diversion will remain one more element of Alabama’s two-tiered system of punishment
Report: In Trouble: How the Promise of Diversion Clashes with the Reality of Poverty, Addiction, and Structural Racism in Alabama’s Justice System