By Frederick Spight, Policy Director

The dust has finally settled and the 2023 Legislative session has ended. We wanted to provide a recap of our legislative priorities, efforts, and initiatives. This session was different, beginning with a special session to disburse the remaining ARPA funds. There were many twists and turns, but overall we have considered this to be a successful session. We thank all of our supporters and especially legislators who decided to put aside partisan politics and fight for the people of Alabama.

Though much of our legislation changed this session, we can confidently say that Appleseed stuck true to our word by introducing and passing legislation that focused on good, efficient government policy as well as providing support and relief to many Alabamians.

Ending Drivers License Suspensions for Low Wealth Alabamians

This was a huge lift and a massive win for lower income Alabamians. We were able to finally get passed and drivers license relief has officially been signed into law. This was the result of long conversations, compromise, and an incredible bipartisan effort. We couldn’t have done it without our excellent bill sponsors: Sen. Will Barfoot, Sen. Merika Coleman, and Rep. Tim Wadsworth. Despite the changes made, we still believe this will bring much needed relief to thousands of Alabamians. The law now allows driver’s to miss one post-adjudication compliance hearing before their driver’s license can be suspended as well as up to 3 payments while on a payment plan. Furthermore, it allows individuals who have had their driver’s license suspended for failure to appear to get their license reinstated even if they can’t immediately pay off their ticket. If you’d like to check out how the bill turned out in the end, you can find it here.

End Fines, Fees and Court Costs for Children

Prior to the beginning of the session, this was a bill that seemed to have quite a bit of support. Admittedly, it even surprised us, but maybe that’s just a testament to how much our lawmakers understood the need to end the practice of saddling youth with court debt that has been shown to not only be contrary to the stated purpose of our juvenile justice system (to rehabilitate the child), but is actually counterproductive, in that it can lead more youth into the adult criminal system. Unfortunately, timing was not our friend here. We tried to push it as much as possible towards the end of session, but we fell out of the “sweet spot” where a bill could be introduced in the later half, but still easily move through the legislature. Even though the bill didn’t gain traction this session, we still have to shout out our great sponsors Sen. Kirk Hatcher and Rep. Jeremy Gray for being patient and ready to carry this legislation. We believe this is only the beginning, and we look forward to bringing it home in the near future.

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

We knew going into the session that out of all our priorities, our Second Chance Bill was going to be the most difficult. So difficult in fact that we saw it as a win if we could get it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Through a shocking turn of events, not only did it make it out of the House Judiciary, we were one Senate vote away from getting it passed! Again, this was a huge bipartisan effort with many unlikely allies working together to make this a passable, but still effective bill. Unfortunately, we became an unintended victim of party politics and the bill was taken off the calendar on the last day of session. Even though it did not pass, we were extremely proud of the progress it made and the tenacious advocacy of our bill sponsor Rep. Chris England. Appleseed and our allies will return with a Second Chance bill in 2024, especially now that we’ve seen such strong bipartisan support for reviewing sentences of life without parole for individuals whose offenses caused no physical injury.

Re-entry Housing Pilot Program

Depending on who you ask, or maybe the day or even the hour you asked, this was a pretty easy task to accomplish. We were able to successfully get the requested line item in the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles’ budget at the beginning of the session. Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget was less generous to the BPP. Among the millions of dollars of requested monies, the $500,000 pilot program was also nixed. We learned a valuable lesson– once something is taken out of the budget, it can be very hard to get it back in. This was essentially the story here. The silver lining is that many lawmakers have been educated on the issue and the need for reentry services. Once again, when framed as crime prevention, and breaking the cycle of recidivism which also saves the state money, we found many willing to support the program. Sometimes, dispelling rumors and educating our legislature is consolation enough.

Appleseed Bill Watch

One new initiative our Policy Team worked on this year is the Appleseed Bill Watch. It was an effort to educate the broader public about the legislative process, keep track of some interesting legislation (for all kinds of reasons) and let’s be honest, to professionally get some jokes off and lighten the sometimes heavy air that is State House Politics. Out of the nine Bills that officially made it on our bill watch this year, four were passed and signed into law! One bill, HB4 the microchipping bill, was originally a quirky addition that seemed to be a fun thing to keep track of. By the end of the session, it was pretty clear that this was one of the more forward thinking pieces of legislation to come out of the State. Particularly as governments rush to deal with rapidly advancing AI technology and unregulated implementation of a variety of technologies into everyday life. Maybe next year we should have a little bet on how many of the bills and which ones will make it over the finish line. Just kidding, we don’t need anymore nastygrams, particularly not about gambling. Check out the results and continue to stay tuned!

We’re so proud of what we were able to accomplish this session, and we couldn’t have done it without people like you– everyday Alabamians who care and are willing to work to make our state the best it can be. Contrary to naysayers, our legislature and our state is at its best when everyone comes to the table to Fight for a Better Alabama. Until next time, keep fighting, Alabama.

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.

By Frederick Spight, Policy Director

“Let us fight passionately and unrelenting for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love…” 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words on April 7, 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. His sermon, entitled “Birth of A New Nation” was the first of many sermons in which Dr. King reflects and draws inspiration from his time in Ghana. The country had, just a month before, declared its independence from the British Empire and Dr. King was able to witness its beginning stages firsthand. Under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, who had spent roughly ten years in the United States, Ghana became a leader in the African and, arguably, world decolonization movement of the mid-to-late 20th century.

On Dr. King’s return to the segregated South he mused on the images he saw: Nkrumah’s first speech as president of the new nation while wearing the hat he wore in prison as a result of his activism, children running the streets yelling freedom and Nkrumah dancing with the Dutchess of Kent at the state ball, as equals. It was here that Dr. King said “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community”. 

In Kingian philosophy the Beloved Community is one in which “… poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

On this Martin Luther King Jr, Day I reflect on the Beloved Community, as I tend to do from time to time. As a policy director, my goal is to craft legislation and advance the overall goal of achieving justice and equity for all Alabamians. As an attorney, my job is to ethically fight for the best of my clients,   which historically, have been the poor and disenfranchised. As a husband, I believe it is my role to be supportive, kind and understanding through all the challenges that life throws. As a father, my goal is to lead by example so that my children can always fall back on the foundation of right and wrong that I set. Finally, as a Black man, I believe it is my responsibility to build a legacy for future generations to build upon.

In all of these roles, in isolation but also as they overlap, I aim to bring about the Beloved Community. But I am one person and to bring about the Beloved Community it will take the broader masses to believe and strive for the same end.

In our system of government, we elect leaders who then come together as one body to take on the task of passing laws, rules, budgets and the otherwise mundane (but extremely important work) of administering the touch stones of government in our daily lives. This is true in both our State and the federal government. This past week was the organizational session in which members, new and seasoned, of the Alabama State Legislature came together for the first time before the beginning of the regular session. People received committee assignments, were assigned offices, while also passing rules in how our legislative body would operate. There were talks of fairness and collegiality while making direct and indirect references to the state of our national discourse.

Recently, it appears that instead of being a bottom up system of governance, it has become top down. Those in power, the elected and those non-elected who have influence over our lawmakers, have begun to tell the citizenry what to care about, or more accurately, what to be enraged by. And this is evident as many in this state suffer from the injustice that is poverty and all the inequities that flow from it, while focusing on niche issues of culture or heady academic subjects.

Therefore, it would be naive to say that the polarization that affects this nation at our highest levels of government is not also present in this  state. We see the effect all around us and inevitably we will see it this session. In these moments I hope all members of the Legislature, but more importantly all Alabamians, will to remember the words of Dr. King as he said “[w]e must come to the point of seeing that our ultimate aim is to live with all men as brothers and sisters under God, and not be their enemies…”

In reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King and the Beloved Community, we should also not miss the opportunity to reflect on our own legacies. What will people say after we are gone? Will we make the pages of history, or will we be forgotten in a generation? I can only imagine how Dr. King, a man who was despised and hated by many, would have reflected before he was martyred for justice. Maybe more importantly, how would he respond to the state of Alabama, this Nation and the World and those who use his name for their own goals. 

In sum, I ask all of you who read this to reflect as I have: what role do you play in the Beloved Community and how will you bring it to be?

“Forward Ever, Backward Never”₃

₃ Kwame Nkrumah’s Conventional People’s Party slogan

My Name is Frederick M. Spight Jr. and I am elated to be joining Alabama Appleseed as the new Policy Director. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to create broad reaching changes and reforms that positively affect the most vulnerable in the state of Alabama. My approach to the work is informed by a myriad of experiences as an attorney, educator, parent and life-long Southerner.

I am a native of Marietta, GA and received my undergraduate degree in history with a concentration in philosophy from Morehouse College. As a history major we were always told (particularly by those outside of the field) that you either go into teaching or law. I was keen on neither, but in a twist of irony I would go on to experience both. 

While working in a packing plant during my college years I came to the realization that law can be a tool to help the most marginalized and voiceless in our society. It was here that I decided to go into the legal profession which took me to Winston-Salem, NC. 

I graduated from Wake Forest University School of Law in Winston-Salem, NC. While there I interned abroad at a Hungarian NGO, studied human and civil rights law in Austria, worked with Legal-Aid of North Carolina and the Community Law and Business Clinic while also serving as an Executive Editor of the Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy. Not to mention, I met my lovely wife while there. My constant goal was to find the best, and most effective method of advocacy that could bring broad-reaching and lifelong change to lower income people and the communities in which they live.

Eventually, my perspective changed and this led me into education where I followed the charge of Frederick Douglass who said, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” My goal in education was to reach a younger generation of students and to inspire them the way I had been inspired at Morehouse College. With the intended effect of instilling with them the knowledge to avoid many of the traps that I had seen from low-income clients at my time in Legal Services organizations. One of my fondest memories came from a student who many would describe as “troubled”. He was severely behind on virtually every metric and had significant disciplinary issues. In trying to get him to do his work I found that the key was not to let this student have any down time. I made sure to always give him more work and even would sneak in more advanced work for the challenge. One day he came to my desk and said:  “You know, Mr. Spight, all of these subjects are interconnected and build off of each other.” He then went on to explain the interplay between language arts, social studies, math and the sciences and how the skills from one directly and indirectly translate to others. I told him that he has grasped what many adults who are making educational policy have failed to understand and maybe he should be the one at the table.  I’m always grateful for this experience and I probably learned just as much from my students as they learned from me.

After teaching, I came back into the legal profession and to the state of Alabama via the John Lewis Fellowship at Legal Services Alabama. I focused on public benefits law, consumer issues and education law. I was able to successfully represent several clients in unemployment hearings before the Alabama Department of Labor wherein they received over $10,000 in back pay. Furthermore, I was able to use Mckinney-Vento, a federal act that allows homeless children to stay at their school of origin regardless of the district in which they might currently be living, to keep two cousins in a school after one of their mothers died and the other’s father was missing. They were both being raised by their older sister/aunt who was also a single mom of two young children at 21. 

Also, I was able to create the JLF Community Growth Project wherein we focused on helping small businesses, nonprofits and other community centered organizations with their basic legal needs. To support the work I supervised a community asset mapping project conducted by several law students and also did research surrounding payday lending. This was a multipart project in that it aimed to create specific information that could be used to directly target services into communities with the highest concentrations of poverty while also identifying anchor institutions in these communities for outreach and relationship building in the future. Payday lending became an ancillary project as I realized that it wasn’t enough to help foster economic growth in low-income communities without addressing sources of resource extraction, such as payday lenders, from these same communities. 

After the Fellowship I transitioned to the position of Court Debt Project Attorney where I focused on Fines and Fees work statewide. In this position, I was able to get an intimate look at oftentimes overlooked issues confronting justice-involved people. Practicing state wide allowed me to witness first hand the diversity of this great state. It also showed me how, regardless of perception or political affiliation, there are many actors who seek to reform the criminal justice system, while also battling with entrenched forces that would prefer it to stay the same. Once again, I saw this as an opportunity to address not only the economic strain on my clients, but also the strain it put on their families and communities in which they lived. I was able to get thousands of dollars of court debt remitted throughout the state. During this period I also became more aware of Appleseed’s initiatives as they focused on a lot of the issues I was focused on from a policy perspective, whereas my role brought me into courtrooms throughout the state.

As I reflected on these experiences, one of the constant forces that negatively impacts low income individuals is unfavorable legislation. For instance, as a Fines and Fees attorney the main mechanism by which I aimed to remit or reduce an individual’s court debt is based on judicial discretion. This means that regardless of an individual’s ability or likelihood of being able to pay their debt to the court, the decision to remit is largely and oftentimes based on other considerations such as an individual judge’s subscription to one theory on crime and punishment over another. One of the more painful situations I experienced was a woman who served over 10 years in prison and has been unable to find a steady job since her release. Even still, she works a variety of odd jobs to support herself. She pays what little money she can to the court, even though she frequently has a household deficit in relation to her income. To this day the court still compels her to come to court, under threat of issuing a warrant (which will most likely result in her arrest) as it tries to increase her monthly payment arrangement. 

In joining Alabama Appleseed, as the new Policy Director, it is my goal to let my experiences influence good policy initiatives that will positively impact the citizens in the state of Alabama.