By Elaine Burdeshaw, Appleseed Policy Associate

This session certainly came with highs and lows; we experienced great wins and disappointing losses. At the start of the session Appleseed aimed to address the excessive sentences of individuals serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes that involved no physical injury, the lack of state funding for reentry housing, and the lack of oversight in our unconstitutional prisons. This year we saw significant steps forward in two of those areas.


The session started with unprecedented, broad support for our Second Chance bill, HB29, sponsored by Rep. Chris England, which would open a small window for older people serving life without parole for crimes involving no physical injury to have their sentences reviewed. Supporters emerged from across the political spectrum: faith communities, Alabama prison ministry volunteers, members of the judiciary, and former members of Congress. Even the author of the original Habitual Felony Offender Act himself saw the need to reevaluate certain life without parole sentences. But as things sometimes go, we were met with new opposition that caused it to fail in the House of Representatives, the chamber it passed out of only a year before. This was a difficult pill to swallow, and even more difficult when we had to make calls letting the men who would be affected and their families know they’d have to wait at least another year for relief. What we thought would be heartbreaking conversations were ones that in turn encouraged us to keep going; the men serving these sentences were still filled with excitement for what could be, despite our setback this session. So, for now we continue to represent individual clients facing these unfair sentences and press on with hope that we can get the Second Chance bill over the finish line soon.


In the face of this disappointment and what was a hectic session all around, we saw great progress toward more oversight in our prisons and more funding for reentry housing in our state. A bill sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, chair of the Joint Prison Oversight Committee, directly addresses some needs expressed by families and loved ones of people who are incarcerated. SB322 creates a much needed constituent services unit put in place to respond to families and provides that one employee of the unit oversee its services and act as a liaison between the prison system and Joint Prison Oversight Committee. It also creates a position within the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts who will assist the Oversight Committee full-time, adding additional support to this important committee and hopefully expanding committee members’ capacity for overseeing the Department of Corrections.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds and Sen. Greg Albritton, provides $2.3 million dollars to the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles for housing and transitional spaces. The vast need for better and more expansive reentry services in our state is evident. Strengthening our communities and making them safer starts here. The money provided by HB479 puts us on the right track to getting there.


Yes, this was a difficult session, but here is what we know: everyday Alabamians– families of incarcerated people and people who care to pay attention and speak out about the state of our criminal justice system and prisons– created meaningful change when things felt almost impossible. The powerful voices of everyday Alabamians created this progress, and your voices will continue to make progress for this state in the future. A quote from Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, reminded me of something I know to be true:

“It’s not a pie in the sky hope, it’s not a preference for optimism over pessimism. It’s just an orientation of the spirit. I think we have to be willing to believe things we haven’t seen… And so, I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice. I think injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And so, hope is our requirement, it’s our superpower.”

Hope is our superpower, and we plan to keep using it. Thank you for your continued commitment to justice and for partnering with us to build a bolder and brighter Alabama. Appleseed’s work in courthouses, at the local level, and in communities across this state goes on long past when the lights are turned off at the Statehouse. And we have already begun planning for next year! See you then.

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