Eric Brown is one of hundreds of people whose life is now in limbo after retired Judge Charlie Graddick, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, suspended parole hearings until November. 627 hearings set for September and October are now postponed because Graddick’s office says it would have been illegal to hold the hearings.
On Sunday, the brother of Christopher Hurst says he received a phone call from a Captain at Fountain Correctional Facility who said his brother had died from an apparent drug overdose. Christopher Hurst, who family called Chris, had been incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) for 14 years. He was 37-years old.
His family is stunned by the news of his death. Chris’s grandmother and brother had each spoken to him on the phone in the days before his death and both say Chris gave no indication that something was wrong.
The United States is in the midst of a prison suicide epidemic. In 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides accounted for about 1.6% of overall U.S. deaths. That same year, the latest for which Bureau of Justice Statistics have been released, suicides accounted for about 4% of deaths in federal prisons, about 7% of deaths in state prisons, and a whopping 35% of deaths in local jails.
Alabama, where I live, is at the center of the crisis. The state prison suicide rate here is nearly triple the national average, and there’s evidence the numbers are even worse than we know.
Recently the Alabama Daily News published a story about parole with a misleading headline that stated, “State data shows more violent inmates receive parole.” It’s true that Alabama parole rates have increased in recent years, but not necessarily because more violent people are getting out of prison early.
Let’s address the term “violent inmate.” The implication is this person is actively dangerous, guilty of causing physical harm and likely to hurt someone again. None of this is necessarily true.
This past week the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) held a memorial service honoring Jake, a K-9 narcotics detection officer that died after he was exposed to a synthetic drug during a raid at Staton Correctional Facility. There were printed programs, and an enlarged photograph was displayed of Jake, a gorgeous Belgian Malinois, posed with his partner, K-9 Sergeant Quintin Jones.
Any mention of the epidemic murders, suicides and assaults that happen on ADOC’s watch were conveniently absent from the pageantry of the event.
A trove of photographs depicting brutalized and murdered prisoners in Alabama’s St. Clair Correctional Facility has thrust the treatment of our nation’s 2.3 million incarcerated people into public view. The first horror is what these people have endured in prison. The second horror is that while shocking, it is not a surprise.
As a lawyer who has represented prisoners for more than two decades, I have come to expect such violence and degradation of human beings held in appalling conditions like those seen in these photos. The only thing that’s unusual is that, for a brief moment at least, the curtain has been pulled aside and the everyday brutality of our prisons laid bare for all to see.
Domineque Ray was pronounced dead last night at 10:12 p.m. Thirty minutes prior, his execution by lethal injection began.
His last words were a proclamation of his Muslim faith in Arabic. But Ray’s imam was missing from the room, despite Ray’s repeated requests to the state for his imam’s presence. In the days leading up to his death, Ray was also denied access to a Quran, though the state ultimately complied with an order to provide the holy text.
The ACLU of Alabama, Alabama Civic Engagement Coalition, Alabama Justice Initiative, Faith in Action, and Greater Birmingham Ministries came together to engage in your race because the stakes are high for all Jefferson County residents. We all have a history of working for criminal justice reform and for supporting the rights of all Alabamians. As Jefferson County’s next District Attorney, we urge you to protect those rights.
During this election, voters spoke out. Polling from August 2018 shows 79 percent of Alabama voters want candidates who support criminal justice reform. They want change. They want smart justice. We ask you to listen to what voters want because they’re relying on you to lead the way in promoting justice, ensuring fairness, and enhancing public safety for all.
From churches to corporations, we are witnessing leadership crises in almost every institution imaginable. In times like this, we need principle-centered leaders whose private decisions and public behavior are guided by a love for all people, rich and poor alike.
As a faith leader, I am called to be a voice for the voiceless, the orphan, and the widow. Proverbs encourages us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV). This is needed in our criminal justice system more than ever.
As a former Probation and Parole Officer, for nearly a decade with the Florida Department of Corrections, I witnessed firsthand the ongoing impact of harsh drug prosecutions and the improper criminalization of a public health crisis. Individuals struggling with addition were routinely sent to prison for technical violations of probation and parole.
District attorney elections are our best opportunity to shape the future of criminal justice in Jefferson County. On November 6, when Jefferson County residents head to the polls to elect the next district attorney, we can demand that the new district attorney look at the disproportionate impact that drug prosecutions have had and decide that it’s time to put a stop to the war on drugs. We can demand that he appreciates the flaws and biases in the criminal justice system and refuses to push to perpetuate them. We can demand true justice.