Jefferson County voters are asking the District Attorney candidates to pledge to end debtor’s prison prior to going to the polls on November 6th. People across Alabama are being jailed and saddled with criminal records simply because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Circulating on social media is a petition that calls for the next DA of Jefferson County, either Mike Anderton or Danny Carr, to agree to policies that will relieve the burden poor people in the criminal justice carry.
Alabamians are ready to see a broken criminal justice system fixed, and it’s time to let those sitting in the most powerful position know it — our District Attorneys (DAs).
District Attorneys are the lead prosecutors in counties across the state, but what voters may not realize is that the District Attorney wields an incredible amount of power to bring about meaningful changes in a broken system.
America has spent the last 50 years becoming the world’s largest incarcerator. It’s gotten there with substantial help from elected local prosecutors, who have used their extraordinary power to lock people up in jails and prisons at unprecedented rates and for unconscionably long amounts of time.
The story of the 2018 primary season, however, has been the focus and energy on prosecutor races as one strategy to combat mass incarceration. More candidates are running, and more voters are paying attention to these races than ever before. Here is what has happened so far as well as a few more important prosecutor races that will be decided on Nov. 6.
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama launched its first ever non-partisan billboard campaign to draw attention to the special District Attorney race in Jefferson County.
After former DA Todd Henderson was indicted of perjury in 2017, Deputy DA Danny Carr was appointed by a Jefferson County circuit judge as a temporary replacement for Henderson. After Henderson was convicted, Governor Kay Ivey appointed the current DA Mike Anderton. Both Anderton and Carr are now candidates up for election on November 6, Carr as a Democrat and Anderton as a Republican.
On Friday, October 5, Jefferson County District Attorney candidate Danny Carr tweeted that “it’s hard to imagine that our limited resources should be devoted to jailing individuals for marijuana possession instead of focusing on serious violent crimes.” While he later clarified that he would still be prosecuting marijuana possession cases, he emphasized that “jail for small amounts of marijuana is a no no.”
This position marks an important departure from the way marijuana possession cases are currently being handled, where a second conviction for any amount of marijuana is prosecuted as a felony. Instead, Carr, whose position is similar to those taken by progressive district attorneys across the country, thinks it’s more appropriate to treat the offense “like a traffic citation.” While it remains unclear what constitutes a small amount or how he intends to implement this policy, advocates anticipate continued dialogue with him at the upcoming District Attorney Candidate Forum, hosted by Faith in Action Alabama.
Over the past ten years, states across the country, including Alabama, have been working to rein in their excessive reliance on incarceration and to search for ways to respond to crime that are simultaneously less costly and more effective.
While most reform efforts in Alabama and elsewhere have focused on legislative fixes, it's worth noting that perhaps the most powerful person in criminal justice policy, and criminal justice reform, gets very little attention: the local county prosecutor.
Our nation is in the midst of bleak times. We see crying children separated from parents at the border, the homeless population is growing, students feel unsafe at their schools, people unable to afford healthcare, and the list goes on. In Jefferson County, our community struggles with high incarceration rates.
During July 2018, more than one-third of the people booked into the Jefferson County Jail were arrested for a Failure to Appear (FTA) warrant or charge. That’s approximately 430 people in jail with FTA charges; and approximately 280 people held solely on FTA charges with no additional charges. Are the people of Jefferson County simply bad at remembering dates or is something else going on?
Have you ever watched an episode of “Law & Order”? The creators do an amazing job of dramatizing the court process. The characters playing the prosecutors are always eloquent and passionate as they go toe-to-toe with an indignant defense attorney who is quick to counter every point. We see this version of the trial process all the time in mainstream media. The real life, everyday version is much different. My real-life experience was much different.