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.

by Elaine Burdeshaw, Policy Associate

It’s no secret that Alabama is facing serious problems in our prisons and criminal justice system. In 2023 alone, 325 people died in Alabama Department of Corrections custody– making our prison mortality rate the highest in the nation and five times the national average. We face outdated laws and excessive sentencing that have put older people behind bars for far too long; creating exorbitant medical costs that we as taxpayers pay for, even though this population is the least likely to reoffend and the most expensive to incarcerate. We spend zero dollars on reentry, despite the fact that thousands of people leave correctional custody every year with a few dollars, a bus ticket and no support. All of that, and we’re set to spend over a billion dollars on a new prison that won’t solve all our problems. 

And yet, despite all the fires, there are people working to put them out, and every day Alabamians who care to be a part of tackling these things head on. At Appleseed, part of our job, yes, is to point out where the problems are, but our most important role is to help come up with solutions to those problems. This session Appleseed is bringing three legislative proposals that we believe are effective and viable solutions to addressing the prison crisis and improving public safety.

The first is our Second Chance Bill, HB29, which would give judges the authority to review the old cases of individuals sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes where no one was physically injured. 

There are over 200 people in Alabama who have been sentenced to die in prison for crimes where no one was physically injured under the state’s Habitual Felony Offender Act. Sentenced in the three-strikes laws era of the 80s and 90s, most of these people are over the age of 60 and will have served at least 24 years by the time the bill were to pass. They’re also the most expensive to incarcerate and the least likely to reoffend. These individuals have served decades in Alabama’s dangerous prisons and still have shown profound rehabilitation. Simply put, these sentences are no longer fair or necessary, and they deserve another chance and the opportunity to live the rest of their lives free. For more information about our Second Chance bill and work, please visit

The second is our Prison Oversight Bill, which would create an independent ombuds office within the Executive Branch to monitor conditions inside facilities, create necessary transparency for the public, Governor, and legislators, and work to improve the safety and well-being of incarcerated people and Corrections staff.

Since the Department of Justice declared all Alabama prisons for men unconstitutional and sued the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2020, the department has failed to improve and maintain livable, humane conditions within those facilities. In many ways, the conditions have only gotten worse. Incarcerated people are dying at tremendous rates, staffing has hardly improved, drugs and contraband are rampant, and violence continues to keep everyone inside unsafe. It’s past time to create oversight for the ADOC, and the Prison Oversight Bill will help bring what has been absent within the department for a long time– transparency. 

Our third and final priority is state funding for reentry housing. $500k in the State Bureau of Pardons and Paroles budget would provide around 50 people 6-12 months of housing in a Jefferson County reentry pilot program. 

Currently the state of Alabama provides zero dollars for reentry, even though thousands of people are released from correctional custody every year. We know from our own reentry work with clients and from research that when someone has a stable place to eat, sleep, shower, and receive mail everything else becomes a whole lot easier. We also know from the experiences of other states that  provide state funding for reentry services that recidivism and rates of reoffense decrease, and things like employment increase. Our hope is that this pilot program will show the positive impact of stable housing in reentry and the state will begin investing more resources toward that end.

We’ve seen in the last two years what can happen when everyday Alabamians, like us and like you, come together to create positive change. In 2022, we passed HB95, which created a 180 day grace period for people leaving correctional custody before they have to begin paying on accrued fines and fees. In 2023, we passed SB154, which curbed the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for debt-based reasons. And this year with your help and support, we can do it again. See you at the Statehouse!

By Frederick Spight, Policy Director and Elaine Burdeshaw, Policy Associate


As we look forward to the start of the 2023 legislative session, and the beginning of the Quadrennium, Appleseed plans to bring forth several legislative priorities. As is our custom, these initiatives are based on evidence and research that will advance the goals of good, efficient government as well as providing support and relief to many Alabamians.

This session help us pass the following four priorities:

End Drivers License Suspensions for Low Wealth Alabamians


Once again we are bringing our Drivers License Suspension Bill. The Bill made it through the Senate last year and in both the House Judiciary and State Government Committees, but unfortunately never made it to the House floor for a vote. Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) along with Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Jefferson County) will sponsor in the Senate. This year Rep.Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley) will sponsor in the House.

Just to recap: as of 2021 almost 170,000 Alabamians had their drivers licenses suspended in the state for failure to pay a traffic ticket or for failure to appear in court. In this state, the loss of a driver’s license is particularly devastating for the poor and working class. Without a driver’s license people have a hard time getting to work, getting children to school, and taking care of the day to day needs of adult life. This creates a cascade of effects on not only the individual, but their families and communities. Based on the result of our survey of Alabama drivers whose licenses were suspended due to unpaid traffic debt, we know that 89% had to choose between basic needs like food, utilities, or medicine and paying what they owed; 73% had to request charitable assistance they would not have otherwise needed; 48% took out high-interest payday loans; and 30% admitted to committing crimes like selling drugs or stealing to pay off their tickets.

Getting these drivers back on the road will also have a positive impact on our workforce. Business leadership and the Governor have been trying to institute, or influence, policies to get Alabamians to work. Currently, Alabama ranks 45th in the country for workforce participation at 57%. The national average is around 62%. A recent Cygnal poll showed that 31% of Alabamians cited transportation as the main reason they are unemployed– we have plenty of jobs, but often lack people to fill them. The Driver’s License Bill is a simple solution that will achieve higher workforce participation, stabilize communities and provide relief for thousands of low income Alabama families.

End Fines, Fees and Court Costs for Children


Alabama Appleseed has been working to reform unjust court fines and fees for more than  5 years. So far, these efforts have been geared toward the adult court system. As we began to dig into the issue we found another court system about which there has been less advocacy around fines and fees: the Juvenile Court System. This is for a myriad of reasons, but particularly due to the confidential nature of the proceedings themselves. Also, many parents and youth are unwilling to publicly speak out, lest they draw more attention to the mistake they made as a minor. Unfortunately, this has led to many families suffering in silence.

The goal of the Juvenile Justice system in Alabama is to rehabilitate the child. The imposition of fines, fees, and court costs are overly punitive measures. A growing body of research has shown that the imposition of fines and fees on youth can actually lead to poorer outcomes such as continued involvement in the criminal justice system well into adulthood. Therefore, we aim to end the practice of assessing these fines and fees, with the exception of restitution to victims. This legislation will be sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika) and Sen. Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery).

Provide Older People Serving Long Prison Sentences a Second Chance at Life


Currently there are about 230 incarcerated Alabamians serving life without parole for crimes that did not involve homicide or sex offenses. Most of these crimes involve no physical injury to the victim. These individuals were sentenced under Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, a three-strikes law created in the late 1970s. Many have served 30-plus years and are over 50-years old.

As this population has aged, prison health care costs have climbed. The Alabama Department of Corrections is now poised to spend $1 billion on prison health care, a figure that is sure to continue growing as people with death-in-prison sentences continue to age behind bars.

Continued punishment of elders is not a wise investment. Criminality declines by age 40 and continues to fall as people reach their 50s. By age 60, recidivism is virtually nonexistent. 

Our prisons are overcrowded and extremely violent. The conditions have already been declared unconstitutional by the federal government. One solution to alleviate some of this pressure is to release individuals who pose little to no threat to public safety.

As such, Alabama Appleseed has crafted the Second Chance at Life: Elder Review Act that will give those serving sentences of life imprisonment without parole for offenses in which there was no physical injury to the victim an opportunity to have their sentence reviewed by the sentencing judge to determine if additional punishment is warranted. Individuals who have reached age 50, served at least 15 years, and have no homicide or sex crimes on their record will be eligible for resentencing. Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) will sponsor the bill.

Re-entry Housing Pilot Program

Three of Appleseed’s recently released clients Willie Ingram, Larry Garrett, and Lee Davis outside of Shepherd’s Fold re-entry facility. Photo credit Bernard Troncale.


Even with $3 billion going to prisons, Alabama spends no money whatsoever on housing for the thousands of individuals who leave those prisons every year with nothing. Our final legislative priority is securing funding for a re-entry pilot program in Jefferson County.

Already, Appleseed has begun to provide re-entry services for individuals released from prison. This includes: acquiring birth certificates, driver’s licenses, social security cards, securing housing, employment, and health care. We have found, and studies have shown, that housing security is a major determining factor to success following incarceration. It should surprise no one that those with stable housing and a solid network are significantly less likely to reoffend than those with few resources.

Therefore, we are requesting a $500,000 budgetary line item for re-entry within the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles budget. We have secured participation from Aletheia House, a Birmingham-based nonprofit with decades of housing experience, that will receive all of the $500k in state funding to coordinate housing. Appleseed will provide wraparound services based on the model we have developed over the last three years. Alabama will not be the first state to invest in re-entry housing as a way to reduce recidivism. In fact, many states, including our Southern neighbors, have recognized the necessity of supporting formerly incarcerated people as they get back on their feet. If we want to get serious about reducing the prison population, investing in adequate re-entry services is imperative.