Sen. Ward Kudos and APAEP in our Prison Crisis Debate

 


Kudos to Sen. Cam Ward [R-Alabaster] head of the Senate Judiciary Committee blocking the ethics bill proposed by Marsh and Albritton. Reported dead in Ward’s committee by Bill Britt [APR 4/18/19] who wrote, “However, since then, the pair have continued to lobby Republican caucus members to climb on board with the measure. Albritton is even suggesting that he and Marsh go around the Judiciary Committee to get the bill to the Senate floor” to circumvent the usual process. Amazing to watch politicians’ acumen and cunning to manipulate toward their own ends.

Most senators privately told APR they don’t want to vote on the bill, in fear of opposing these two powerful politburo members, likely to engage in retribution against those wanting to maintain our unusual gains of the 2010 (when straight-ticketeers cancelled each other out) ethics legislation. These hard won impediments to politicians using their office for personal benefit are more easily gutted in our current, less competitive, political environment. Those who understand the corrupt pawl of ACCA, BCA, et alia still clutching Goat Hill are not surprised at the Marsh and Albritton ‘full court press’ to repeal 2010 ethics laws.

APR will post legislation [promoted by prosecutors Davis & Hart] to address/revise provisions which seemed easy loopholes/too binding soon after the Hubbard convictions. It was signed off by Marsh and McCutcheon 2017 and agreed upon by the ‘big mules’ - i.e., it is worthy of reading and considering. APR further noted, “During the investigation into then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, Marsh found himself in front of a grand jury and later as a witness at Hubbard’s trial. As a wealthy businessperson, it may be as simple as Marsh wants to destroy the ethics laws so he will never be forced to appear before a grand jury or be a witness in a public corruption trial.”

In the past Sen. Ward offered the most pressing question on where the ‘big mules’ would go as powerful BCA members were exiting. Decades ago Alabama Power/Southern Company were members of the Auburn Policy Research Center which was on its way to be advocate for the general welfare of our State until corrupt administrators captured by the Lowder/Felon Hubbard ‘public servant’ gang killed the Center and the successful econ program increasingly attacked by less productive faculty and champions of big govt. The deleterious spirit of not wanting to compete has grown strong roots on the Plains of Dixie. The two most notable in the fight to block “Billion Dollar Bob’s” Amendment One tax explosion and the ‘new and improved’ BIG Business Council of Alabama were John Rice in the traditional arena and Mark Bodenhausen on the emerging internet scene. Mark is no longer with us and dearly missed by those who remember how well he championed liberty against the big govt. extremists. Is it time for Sen. Ward to get with the ‘old guard’ small government conservatives and start a new organization in Alabama?

I think most who ‘follow the goats’ would agree Sen. Ward’s most notable ‘yeoman’s work’ in the legislature is prison reform, largely unnoticed/unappreciated by the uninformed citizen. I was pleasantly surprised to see AG Marshall on the right side of Sen. Ward’s Pardons & Paroles reform legislation. It seems our AG’s office is also moving forward well on Felon Hubbard. Mr. Boulevard is long overdue to serve his sentences and pay his fines which appear to be less than his mounting legal expenses while drawing this out these past several years instead of saving taxpayer money and effort pleading guilty as more decent public servants have done. One can find some actions to disagree with (e.g., one of the smaller BCA ‘moneychanger’ events where Cam Ward donated $1,000 to Beth Rogers; a week later NET PAC donates $2,000 to Cam Ward) and I found Sen. Ward leaning a little too much on alcohol years ago was driven by the stressful job in general; but the despair of trying to address the prison issue more specifically.

As most readers know, our prison system is crisis once again. I ask all to keep Sen. Ward in prayer once again doing his best to address this difficult problem under our current constraints. I’ll not spend text on the biggest sources of our capacity problems which are largely generated by an ‘unfunded mandate’ of sorts. Most of our non-violent offenders are for drug offenses (the federal govt. is not authorized in the Constitution to address) with mandatory federal sentencing guidelines the federal govt. is not incurring the ‘full freight’ to accomplish. Unlike Byrne, Jones, Roby, Rogers, Sewell, Shelby type ‘public masters’ up in our hegemonic DC (who show little regard for our civil rights, rising debt, etc.) we do have a few public servants like Mo Brooks who understand this, but I suspect do not have the courage to address in fear of appearing to be ‘soft on crime/drugs.’

While Sen. Ward has been the most informed and reasonable in the Alabama Senate, Rep. England has been the rising star on this issue in the House. Hope my ‘rookie’ Representative (Jeremy Gray) will consider following this fellow House member instead of those he appears to be seeking as mentors. The incentives/ wealth transfers for BCA, et al architects, contractors, input owners, etc. to build the ‘super prisons’ are obvious. Those in play want to make the prison situation as bad as it takes to facilitate redistributions to politically connected recipients of tax dollars. The anguish and danger they bring to correction officers and prisoners doesn’t matter to them. The biting observation of Rep. England is simple, under the current proposal, the ‘super prison’ solution will not impact the capacity result triggering the crisis with the DoJ. How will this corporate welfare program help the prison problem?

I propose the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project [APAEP] as an integral part of a sincere solution to show a good faith effort to get out of this mess. Smaller prison facilities will be left idle, negatively impacting many of the local surrounding areas - esp. in more remote parts of our State. This is what economists call ‘creative destruction.’ Super facilities can be designed to address our worst criminals that belong behind bars who show no sign of being worthy of return to society. Those who DO show promise to return as productive responsible citizens are negatively impacted by exposure to the worst in our prison populations. Those victimized by ‘one size fits all’/feel good sentencing mandates, didn’t have access, connections and wealth to avoid imprisonment who screen with an aptitude to complete a degree can be disaggregated to these smaller existing facilities requiring less staff and oversight.

APAEP was not formed on a particular day in the past. It was and continues to be an evolving program fueled by a dedicated group of scholars, artists, and writers who’ve witnessed knowledge and creative development can change someone’s life. I’m not in any way a spokesperson, but in full disclosure I am an APAEP instructor. As I bring my 30 years to a close at AU, I would consider being part of a pilot program where I’m a corrections officer and instructor with outstanding student prisoners as the APAEP assigned me to teach economics last Summer. This could help with officer/prisoner ratios. Sen. Ward clearly understands the return to programs of this sort in the long-run in reduced recidivism and DoC expenditures. From all I’ve observed DoC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn understands APAEP could be an integral part of responding to our prison crisis. I pray the Commissioner and legislators will reach out to Kyes Stevens to shepherd our State to a more effective response.

Kyes Stevens is founder and director of APAEP at Auburn University, a program serving 10 Alabama prisons through pre-college and college classes. Through this program, the first B.S. degree for the Alabama prison system was launched in 2016. Stevens has received awards for her role as an influential woman in Alabama and has been invited to participate in numerous White House discussions about the role of higher education in criminal justice reform. I know it is unusual to say Alabama was ahead of the curve on this one and was giving consultation and input to other States smart enough to see this result. The harsh reality is many of the well-connected in our State do not want some of these individuals imprisoned in the economy competing with them and those they want to shield from competitors. So those who would be in school and getting education are not being served by the ETF and putting more pressure on the general fund to be a holding place for some prisoners who really do not belong behind bars and could be talented productive participants in our State’ economy.

There’s no doubt public servants espousing feel good campaign promises to be “tough on crime” now find themselves struggling to pay for a criminal justice system which (to achieve the purpose of stifling competition) emphasizes a strategy of mass incarceration. Alabama’s criminal justice system has skewed toward this model for decades. Overreliance on mass incarceration proffered this expensive system, oft counterproductive, serving as a ‘training ground’ for hardening criminals instead of a public safety asset (to separate dangerous individuals from society) to establish a well-defined course toward redirecting and rehabilitating those worthy of a second chance. The prisoners who CAN be successful, if allowed, are less likely to return to incarceration and increase the burden on taxpayers.

The pro-mass incarceration bent to block those who could be productive competitors takes a disproportionate toll on communities of colour, the undereducated, lower incomes unable to defend themselves and those suffering from mental illness/addiction. Government distortions to promote our modern ‘opium wars’ is fodder for another column, but nonetheless devastating. “Tough-on-crime” public interest rhetoric has indeed been politically effective, such campaign promises and resulting policies have very real consequences on individuals, families, communities, and taxpayers long after a sentence is served. Alabama reportedly has the third highest (Carson & Anderson, 2016) imprisonment rate per capita in the nation. Our prisons have been as high as 195% capacity in 2014 according to 2015 Council of State Governments Justice Center data.

I’ve long campaigned against Alabama’s bent for mass incarceration resulting from habitual minor offender laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and targeted drug laws. Reserving the extreme and costly punishment of incarcerating individuals who endanger society is just and economically sound. Our State prisons and county jails are filled with non-violent offenders, most of whom would more likely benefit from alternate corrections. Mass incarceration is not always the most apropos response, but nonetheless an extremely expensive solution that’s driving the overcrowding and staffing challenges exacerbating recently documented inhumane conditions prompting DoJ intervention. Alabama prisons seem constantly in federal courts for Constitutional violations indicating a Petri dish for corruption and abuse.

A history of unnecessarily harsh treatment has plagued Alabama’s prison system. In 1875 the State generated revenue from leasing out prisoners to work dangerous jobs. Blackmon’s 2008 work found 45% of inmates in this convict-lease system died in a single year. Alabama became the last State to abolish this practice in 1928. In 1972, following a class action lawsuit brought by inmates, a federal judge found 8th and 14th Amendment violations in Alabama’s prisons due to inadequate medical care and treatment of inmates. Twenty years later the State was sued in another class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates with mental illness - finally settled eight years later, when Alabama finally agreed to major reforms. We were the first State to revive chain gangs in 1995. A lawsuit following the death of a prisoner in 1996 led to an agreement in federal court to stop the practice. The list goes on to the Supreme Court ruling Alabama’s use of hitching posts unconstitutional to DoJ declaring conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for Women to be unconstitutional a few years ago, citing allegations of prison guards sexually harassing and abusing female inmates for decades.

According to Alabama’s DoC (2016) only 39% of inmates have a high school degree or equivalent - support of substantive GED education is important and good vantage point to identify top students as candidates for APAEP. Even after sentences are met, former inmates often face huge barriers as they try to rebuild their lives. The majority of those in prison will be released and reenter local communities. Program Director Stevens sees the current system insufficient to provide proper transition and support for successful reintegration; 60-75% of recently incarcerated individuals were unemployed a year after their release according to a National Institute of Justice 2013 report. When a criminal record effectively denies access to employment and community reintegration, former inmates are more likely to return to crime for survival, getting trapped in a revolving prison door.

As explained above, the economic result is a depleted labor pool of some bright, productive individuals that many do not want to compete with, further aiding and abetting continued crime cycles. State and local taxpayer burdens increase due to high rates of recidivism along with community support services required to remedy the collateral damages of mass incarceration. Overreliance on prison is clearly straining our entire criminal justice system. The ‘baked-in’ crisis is much more difficult to address today since Alabama did not follow pathbreakers like Stevens. Other States which had the good sense to put more into APAEP type programs enjoyed the long-run benefit instead of locking into more mass incarceration. I understand this is one of many improvements to consider with more GED classes along with community and specialty courts for minor crimes/first offenders, restorative justice, parole reforms Sen. Ward is proposing, better targeted/ streamlined probation process, supervised re-entry, and work-release programs to name a few. APAEP may have outgrown AU, requires more support or can be incorporated into the DoC’s statewide GED program. I understand it will apply to a small group of prisoners with the aptitude and eligibility to be in an undergrad program of this sort, but this is where the highest benefit (esp. to long-run taxpayers) appears to be.

Postscript: many thanks for all the e-mails on the ‘Entrekin/Franklin Bill’ on the sheriff’s food program for inmates in their county jails, recalling my May 2018 Alabama Gazette column: https://www.alabamagazette.com/story/2018/

05/01/news/alabama-sheriffs-lawsuit-outrage-v-issue/1364.html. Insiders say it is currently hung-up on a 2% inflation adjustment for the daily $ amount food allowance which is not unreasonable (squarely between 0 and 4%) but could be easily remediable. Tie to CPI-U (which the feds use for I-bond adjustments, so you know it is ‘fibbed’ downward) not to exceed 2%. It would not get ‘trumped up’ in low inflation years and still capped at 2%. It is more unreasonable to again have no adjustment provision. In spite of Billion Dollar Bob’s yearly tax assessment, let’s have some discussion where the legislature shall address

adjustments of this sort after every quadrennial election.

 

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