This is a condensed version of a longer letter that I sent to Governor Siegelman, Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, my state senator and representative, and several other figures in state politics immediately after Judge Shashy’s ruling was announced. Alabama’s inhuman prison system and racist, violent police force are one of the single greatest barriers to the continuing progress of racial justice in this state. As they always have been; to paraphrase Malcolm X, the white supremacist have traded in the hoods and white sheets (well, *some* of them have traded in the hoods and white sheets!) for badges and blue uniforms and black robes. The letter was published in the Opelika-Auburn News on 24 May 2001.
Editors, Opelika-Auburn News:
This past Friday, Judge William Shashy ordered the state to move to state prisons the nearly 2,000 state prisoners who have been illegally jammed into county jails for more than 30 days. Intense overcrowding throughout the prison system has produced inhuman conditions for the prisoners, and huge headaches for county sheriffs and the Department of Corrections. Our state government has responded to the situation by proposing to spend more of our tax money on newer, bigger prisons and more corrections officers. But why should we keep throwing more people into an expanding prison system, when that’s what landed us in this crisis in the first place?
About one out of every six prisoners in the state of Alabama — over 4,000 inmates — is imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses,
crimes which hurt nobody but themselves. They’re jammed into overcrowded cells for years, stripped of their civil rights to vote, and made to work like slaves in furniture plants, chemical plants, and right out on the fields through prison labor programs. Worse, two-thirds of the prison population is Black; the racist enforcement of the War on Drugs — a war on some people who use certain kinds of drugs — threatens to take Alabama back to the plantation and Jim Crow.
Prison population has been skyrocketing ever since the introduction of Alabama’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require judges to put away nonviolent first-time drug offenders for anywhere between three and nineteen years, depending on the drug involved. If you want to solve Alabama’s prison population crisis, don’t throw away more of our tax dollars on new prisons. Instead, release Alabama’s 4,000 prisoners of the War on Drugs and repeal the insane drug laws that created this crisis.