Opinion | Gov. Ivey, stop choosing profit over people

Alabama has a prison problem.


Anna Beth Peters, Guest Columnist

If you have been paying even a sliver of attention, you know that Alabama has a prison problem. If you haven’t been paying attention, now is the time to start. 

In 2019, the United States Department of Justice published a report detailing their investigation of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), in which they visited the state’s 13 prisons, spoke to staff and inmates, and examined facility conditions. Their findings concluded that Alabama’s prison conditions violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the eighth amendment. 

Since this report’s release, no substantial change has been made in the Alabama prison system. The DOJ filed a lawsuit against Alabama in December 2020 in an effort to force Alabama officials to take action against the inhumane conditions found throughout the ADOC. 

There are a plethora of reasons why Alabama’s prison system is in a state of calamity: overcrowding, understaffing, violence, unsafe and unsanitary living conditions and, overall, a general sense of indifference about atrocities occurring in Alabama prisons. The DOJ report listed around five pages of recommendations to help better the conditions in the state’s prisons, but none of these actions have been taken.

The DOJ also disclosed that while building new prisons might lessen some problems at first, their construction alone will not alleviate all of the deeply-rooted issues in the prison system. The department warned that newly built prisons are likely to fall into a state of disarray in the future if the ADOC continues following the status quo. Again, there have been no substantial changes to rectify the human rights violations occurring in Alabama prisons.

Though the federal Department of Justice adamantly warned against building new prisons, Governor Kay Ivey has taken it upon herself to propose the construction of three new facilities. She recently signed the lease agreements for two of the for-profit mega prisons, which will cost $94 million in lease payments. Administrators project that after 30 years, all three prisons will have cost the state of Alabama a grand total of at least $3 billion. Kay Ivey and the ADOC have set themselves up to bankrupt the state of Alabama for a project that the federal government has strongly advised against.

Their actions will not help to alleviate the pain and suffering of imprisoned Alabamians. Kay Ivey claims that she wants to take the best path forward for the state of Alabama, but she is lying through her teeth by telling her constituents that this is a good idea. This money hungry attempt to profit off of individuals will only assist in further violating the eighth amendment and worsening the lives of Alabamians.  

So, how does one attempt to solve an intensely established and long-standing prison crisis? The obvious first step would be to actually take the suggestions of the Department of Justice into account. This can be done with numerous guideline changes, such as making sentencing guidelines retroactive, repealing the “three strikes” law, reducing sentences for marijuana possession and allowing parole for nonviolent offenders. There are so many options that would lessen this inhumane and persisting crisis, but neither the governor nor the Department of Corrections have not invested the time, effort or resources to fix the structural issues that are apparent throughout the prison system. 

Another incredibly important step is fixing the parole board so that it actually does its intended job of granting prisoner’s early release. From July 2019 to December 2020, Alabama’s parole board only granted parole in 20% of cases. Overcrowding is putting the lives and safety of countless prisoners in danger. Releasing more people on parole will lessen the number of prisoners and better facility conditions, which would greatly improve the lives of countless imprisoned Alabamians. 

Why are Kay Ivey and the ADOC fighting to keep people behind bars?

It is apparent that Governor Ivey and the ADOC need to take immediate and widespread action to minimize the amount of people in Alabama’s prisons. Alabamians should not continue idly sitting by while our elected officials go against our best interests. Call your representatives, the ADOC and Governor Ivey and demand that enough is enough. 

Prisoners are people. They do not deserve to be locked away in a rotting cage, to be forgotten about in an effort to profit off of human suffering. People should come before profit. People should come before prisons.

Anna Beth Peters is a senior majoring in political science and communication studies and is a member of Alabama Students Against Prisons.